Airport Watch Lists: Shouldn’t We Have an App for That?

The New York Times is leading right now with "breaking news" that the U.S. had information about a holiday attack before the Detroit would-be bombing:

Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of Al Qaeda there were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack. While the information did not include a name, officials said it would have been evident had it been compared to information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.

The government also had more information about where Mr. Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were.

Some of the information at the time was partial or incomplete, and it was not obvious that it was connected, the official said, but in retrospect it now appears clear that had it all been examined together it would have pointed to the pending attack. The official said the administration was “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group’s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed.

Isn’t there an iPod somewhere that could compile all of this data and spit it out in a coherent little table? I have to believe that if the super tech monkeys at Apple can create a teeny tiny tablet that can, at a moment’s notice, triangulate my location, give me weather and traffic information, remind me of my grandparents’ anniversary, and recommend a good Ethiopian restaurant, they could probably come up with a way to deal with the enormous influx of information the government gets every day.

iPod touchSo why are we always so mad at banks for not stepping up and making the world a better place while we let some of our major American industrial giants — Microsoft and Apple come immediately to mind — off the hook? Where are the legions of patriotic hackers lining up to help make the world safe for the further development of World of Warcraft expansion packs?

The president admits that the watch list system needs an upgrade. If you’ve ever worked in an office that’s taking bids for a custom computer system, you know what comes next: years of delay, followed by a bug-filled product it’s too expensive to get rid of and often too frustrating to get fixed. Instead, it’d be nice to see the private-plane crowd volunteering to focus on some technology that would make those of us in coach — call us the concerned carry-ons of America — a little bit safer.

Whatcha say, Mr. Jobs? Is there an app for this?

[posted first to Open Salon]

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