Relying on computers to sift through enormous amounts of data, and investigators to act on every alarm the computers sound, is a bad security tradeoff. It’s going to cause an endless stream of false alarms, cost millions of dollars, unduly scare people, trample on individual rights and inure people to the real threats. Good intelligence involves finding meaning among enormous reams of irrelevant data, then organizing all those disparate pieces of information into coherent predictions about what will happen next. It requires smart people who can see connections, and access to information from many different branches of government. It can’t be seen by the various individual pieces of bureaucracy; the whole picture is larger than any of them.
These airline disruptions highlight a serious problem with U.S. intelligence. There’s too much bureaucracy and not enough coordination. There’s too much reliance on computers and automation. There’s plenty of raw material, but not enough thoughtfulness. These problems are not new; they’re historically what’s been wrong with U.S. intelligence. These airline disruptions make us look like a bunch of incompetents who cry wolf at the slightest provocation.