Vendors: CRM might have prevented terror attacks

Systems vendors claim that the 11 September terrorist attacks could have been averted if US federal agencies had been using...

Systems vendors claim that the 11 September terrorist attacks could have been averted if US federal agencies had been using customer relationship management or similar systems.

Vendors delivered this message to a US congressional subcommittee examining ways to improve information management at federal agencies.

To illustrate the need for information sharing, Tom Siebel, chief executive of Siebel Systems, compiled a list of all publicly identified actions by Mohamed Atta and associates. Authorities believe Atta led the attacks and piloted one of the planes that struck the World Trade Centre.

For instance, said Siebel, the US State Department knew immediately when Atta obtained a visa in January 2000. The CIA knew of Atta's meetings with Iraqi intelligence in Prague just days after they occurred in June 2000. The US Immigration services knew when Atta entered the US. The US Treasury Department that $100,000 (£70,000) was wired to Marwan al-Shehhi in July 2000. al-Shehhi also piloted a plane that struck the World Trade Centre. The US Federal Aviation Administration knew that Atta and al-Shehhi left a stalled airplane on the runway of a Miami airport on September 2000.

"The information was there; the associations were known," said Siebel, who testified before the US House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. "Had the right technology been in place, the agencies could have identified and prevented this threat."

Texas congressman Jim Turner called Siebel's catalogue of missed opportunities "very sobering.".

Other vendors, including Alfred Mockett, chief executive of American Management Systems, echoed Siebel's point. "With the technology that exists today, the suspicious activity could have been detected," Mockett said.

"The simple fact is that many of our systems do not talk to one another," said Pat Schambach, recently appointed chief information officer of the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

Schambach and other federal agency IT chiefs who testified today have been ordered by the Bush administration to eliminate the "islands of automation" that prevent federal agencies from sharing data. The administration's proposed $52bn (£36bn) IT budget for next year, focuses on information sharing and security.

Federal agencies are also expected to increase their use of IT vendors to meet the administration's technology goals.

Prior to taking her job at DOT, Schambach was the chief information of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was one of the first federal agencies to outsource its desktop management. Schambach belives that private-sector involvement is essential to improving technology.

"There is going to be a lot of outsourcing going on at our agency," Schambach told the committee.

Siebel also said the Bush administration has to appoint a federal chief information officer to oversee all technology operations.

"It's inconceivable that we can operate a General Motors, an IBM, without an office of the chief information officer coordinating this information across organisations," said Siebel.

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