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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Can we boost security by opening the terror watch list?

Like a lot of citizens, I’ve been following with great interest the fallout from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s alleged attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas Day.

Many of the issues being discussed are reminiscent of the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: databases not sharing; organizations not talking; alerts not getting the attention they need.

The president is proposing a variety of steps that include technology and process improvements. The watch lists, particularly the No Fly List, is a critical area that needs improvement.

As I’ve been thinking about it and an idea keeps nagging at the edges of my brain, so I’m going to throw it out there.

Why not make the watch lists and the No Fly List public documents? Why not release the tips and rumors that agents are chasing? Open the case files.

I know an argument against this is that it’ll be irresponsible and perhaps dangerous. It could needlessly raise fear and panic.

But the more information that is out there for more people to look at, the more opportunities there are for connecting the dots. All the expertise on terrorism and different cultures that foment hatred of the United States don’t reside inside the FBI, the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

Several years ago the idea of creating a market, like Wall Street, where people would “invest” where they thought terrorist attacks or threats were most likely was shot down. It was politically untenable.

But you know, I think it is time to revisit that idea. There has to be a way to tap the collective intelligence on terrorism that is both inside and outside of government.

I know I wrote a few days ago complaining about how difficult the spreadsheet at recovery.gov is to use, so this might seem like a contradiction.

But I believe the more information we have out there, the better off we are. I might not be able to do much with it personally, but I know there are others out there who can.

The other reason I propose opening up the terrorism data is that too many of our anti-terrorism efforts are focused on building walls and putting up fences, both physical and virtual. We need to put equal emphasis on solutions that are flexible and adaptable and move away from a command-and-control type structure.

Opening up the data could be one step in that direction.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 08, 2010 at 9:43 AM

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