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October 20, 2008

Did you hear about these big mistakes?

Quote of the Day:
“The whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time.”
— Homer Simpson

Subject: Did you hear about these big mistakes?

A Fox News report claims that the World Bank’s computer network was hacked several times over the past year. The World Bank has tried to downplay this, but one internal email referred to it as an “unprecedented crisis.” [Source: Information Week]

The World Bank is an organization of 180 national governments, originally intended to reduce world poverty. The Bank manages tens of billions of dollars and employs 10,000 people. The United States government is its largest donor and shareholder, and names its President.

One might assume the World Bank’s computer network is as well-protected as any.

But we must never make assumptions about the efficiency of government institutions — just because government can spend billions of dollars to address a problem, doesn’t mean the problem will actually be addressed, fixed, or handled competently.

For instance, the United States spends more on its Air Force than any other country, by far. And yet, as you may recall,

*In August, 2007, the Air Force lost 6 nuclear warheads for 36 hours.
* In March, it was discovered that in 2005 four electrical fuses for nuclear weapons were shipped to Taiwan, instead of the helicopter batteries that Taiwan had ordered.

Think about that, and then remember last week’s Dispatch, where it is revealed that NSA agents listen in on the intimate phone conversations of unwitting, law-abiding Americans, when they are supposed to be eaves-dropping on suspected terrorists only.

To say the least, government workers are vulnerable to lapses, and government systems are vulnerable to breakdown.

The same is true of the private sector as well. But at least, in the private sector, if you don’t trust the intentions, the staff, or the systems of a private firm, you’re always free to take your business elsewhere.

Government, on the other hand, doesn’t give you that choice.

If the federal government gets its way, more and more of us will be required to carry a national ID card, with personal information to be stored in a central database. The long-term goal is called REAL ID, applicable to everybody. Because many states have refused to comply with REAL ID, the feds are trying to impose it on us industry-by-industry, beginning with the transportation worker TWIC card. They also want to force workers to pay for these cards, to get around the fact that state governments don’t want to pay for REAL ID.

As if that’s not enough, the feds also want to implement a National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Under NAIS, farmers would register their farms and place RFID-chipped tags on all their animals so they can be entered in a centralized system – with the farmers paying the costs.

The government will no doubt claim that “safeguards” will be in place to protect people from identity theft, and that these centralized systems will be protected from hacking.

Who knows, the government officials who make these claims may actually believe it.

But similar officials probably also thought that the World Bank’s computers were safe. They probably also thought their nuclear warheads were safely stored and accounted for, and that Forest Service employees would never start forest fires (destroying 133 homes, a commercial building and 466 outbuildings).

The problem with government assurances is, they’re not very reassuring.

Each of these programs – REAL ID, TWIC, and NAIS – are frightening in their own right. We urge you to learn more about each program, and tell Congress to put an end to them once and for all. Please hit Congress on all of these issues. It’s important to keep hammering on these programs, even amidst the current economic turmoil.

For Real ID, go here.

For TWIC, go here.

For NAIS, go here.

Thank you for being part of our growing Downsize DC Army.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President, Inc.

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