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Top General: Defense Department IT In "Stone Age" 155

CWmike writes "U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James 'Hoss' Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was sharply critical Tuesday of the Defense Department's IT systems and said he sees much room for improvement. the department is pretty much in the Stone Age as far as IT is concerned,' Cartwright said. He cited problems with proprietary systems that aren't connected to anything else and are unable to quickly adapt to changing needs. 'We have huge numbers of data links that move data between proprietary platforms — one point to another point,' he said. The most striking example of an IT failure came during the second Gulf War, where Marines and the Army were dispatched in southern Iraq, he said. 'It's crazy, we buy proprietary [and] we don't understand what it is we're buying into,' he said. 'It works great for an application, and then you come to conflict and you spend the rest of your time trying to modify it to actually do what it should do.'"
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Top General: Defense Department IT In "Stone Age"

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  • I'm sure there is a joke in here some where about Marines, Computers and proprietary systems.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's is the joke!

    • Commander Adama would love the mish mash of non-interoperable systems-- it prevents cylon viruses.

    • See my reply here for the punch line: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2339642&cid=36840394 [slashdot.org]
      And why Defense Department IT is actually in "Irony Age".

    • See also: http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm [lexrex.com] http://warisaracket.org/ [warisaracket.org]
      "Written by Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC, Retired
      War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I beli

  • If only... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:37PM (#36828724)
    If only we gave the DoD enough cash for stuff like this....
    • Re:If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:41PM (#36828782) Homepage Journal

      You jest [quite successfully] but maybe the problem is too much money. If they had to throw bake sales to buy new radios maybe they'd be a little more careful about their purchasing decisions.

      • Re:If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SomePgmr ( 2021234 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @06:00PM (#36828974) Homepage
        Meh, they already complain that they can't afford appropriate armor and such to protect our guys. Then they buy another F-22 they'll never use. Yes I know, different budgets, etc.

        It's entirely misapplication. The military is a ginormous bureaucracy with truckloads of money, and has most of the same problems any other large government agency does. We can buy truckloads of consumables for the Javelin platform at $40,000 a pop, but a veteran has to kick and scream to have his PTSD cared for.

        It's almost like those guys we vote for to act as oversight aren't really doing their jobs...
        • by blair1q ( 305137 )

          You only vote for them. The MIC hires them to run. And nowhere is there a law stating what their individual job descriptions entail.

        • Re:If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @06:23PM (#36829188)

          You're missing the point. Javelins do the job army needs it to do. Discharged veteran doesn't. He's useless from army's point of view. This isn't "government bureaucracy", this is corporate thinking at its finest.

          • I'm inclined to assume incompetence in huge bureaucracies before an intentional shafting of veterans in favor of more explosive ordinance widgets on some spreadsheet. The guys making the budgets aren't in the sandbox, after all. But that could just be me being overly apologetic.
          • Current veterans have NO desire to fuck over the discharged veterans they will someday BECOME. They are very conscious of the whole career path from Basic to retirement.

            It's bureaucracy.

            BTW, the Army is hardly desperate for Javelins now the Cold War is over and there is no enemy armor to shoot, but the program will live on like all the others. Besides, we need to sell them overseas (and use FMS leverage to kill off Israeli Spike sales to that end!). :)

            • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

              Yes, that's why we have golden parachutes for ALL workers.

              Wait, no, that's just the top management that decides on policies. Rest of the workers just implement what those on top told them to, including shafting other workers. You know, just like in the army?

          • Javelins do the job army needs it to do.

            Is it world war 4 already? Thankfully I seem to have slept through WW3.

            • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

              You do realise that anti-tank missiles aren't going to see that much action in WW3? After all the ABC stuff that will come down, there won't be much room for infantry. Well, not much room for humanity in general more like - there's going to be a lot of intact hardware, but almost no one left to operate it.

          • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

            He's useless from army's point of view.

            He may not be an asset anymore but he certainly can be a liability for a nation with an all volunteer army. I know allot of people join up, because they know that they will be treated for the most part pretty well. They get to retire young with a good pension rather than the crappy 401k (which can turn out to be worth nothing potentially) the reset of us get. I really think the military knows its not in their interest to screw over ex-soldiers en-mass.

            I realize that there are many cases where people are

            • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

              Can be mitigated cheaper with a PR campaign then taking care of them all? Seriously, see Bhopal for "how PR can mitigate worst kinds of disasters while giving victims next to nothing"

          • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

            If a McDonald's employee is maimed by an exploding deep fryer and goes to the news, it's bad P.R. for McDonald's. They'd swoop in and pick up the medical bills rather than risk bad press.

            Yet a veteran gets his leg blown off, and no one makes a fuss. Doesn't anyone thing that perhaps not taking care of your permanently maimed and injured is at the very least bad P.R.?

            • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

              Not if you put enough money in PR to counter this.

              #1 of corporate mottos nowadays is "spend a billion fighting something that may cost you a million to fix".

            • Yet a veteran gets his leg blown off, and no one makes a fuss

              Fussing wouldn't help things. Instead we provide top-of-the-line prosthetics, years of psychological, physical, and occupational therapy, additional consideration for promotion, a medical retirement plan, and a (admittedly not as large as it could be) and lump sum payment. It is heart-wrenching when the system fails veterans who have been hurt, but the "bad press" can make people forget that the support is there and the failures are the exception, not the rule.

        • How about we do the logical thing and nationalize weapons production. Doesn't it make sense that the Army guys get to build their own shit? Don't they know WTF they need the most and put the most heart and care into it? Tap that into a free advanced education for enlistment, and you get some highly technical people cranking out awesome projects. Don't you think it would be a great source of revenue for the country as well? Considering we sell arms all over the damn world. Shouldn't we the people be reaping

      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        They might actually do a cost benefit analysis that includes free software.

      • by rhook ( 943951 )

        The USMC does not get much of the defense budget. In fact most of their gear is stuff that the Army replaced. Why do you think Marines call it "The Suck"?

        • They discussed both the Army and the Marines in the article.

          If the Marines are using hand-me-downs from the Army, and the new equipment is not compatible with the old equipment, that's even more pathetic, because odds are the new and the old came from the same vendor.

  • I think that the operational flight software in an airplane should have to go though some kind of review as the last thing you want is a BSOD taking out the system in when the plane is in flight.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward


      So you mean ... like it does already? Have you heard of the FAA? Do you realize they have to certify everything that goes into an sort of aircraft bigger than an 'experimental'?

      • Military aircraft are outside FAA requirements.

        That said they still have pretty damn stringent testing and reliability requirements.
        • by rhook ( 943951 )

          And yet they have more stringent certification requirements. US Military aircraft are some of the safest, most well maintained in the world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rickb928 ( 945187 )


      "If you want to open up the operational flight software in an airplane, think something along the lines of five years and at least $300 million just to open it up and close it, independent of what you want to try to do to improve it," Cartwright said. "We've got to find ways to do that better and more efficiently inside the Department of Defense for sure."

      Damned right. Operational flight software on a aircraft is so fundamental, it should be thought of as part of the hardware. 'Opening it up' is akin

      • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

        This, ten times over. There is a reason why mission-critical stuff isn't messed with in the airplanes and such. This isn't iphone app that can die in a number of ways with no real fallout beyond buyer posting an angry comment.

        Most of military hardware and software is at least half-generation behind the corporate one. Why? Because it's done to military standard, where failure is not an option, unlike corporate where failure is a number that it costs to fix the problem caused by failure divided by likelihood

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        I think the General's request is perfectly reasonable. It's merely hard to accomplish - but the Marines do things that are quite hard to accomplish on a regular basis. Automated testing does wonders for flexibility - and every place I've ever worked has said they wanted more automated testing, but didn't back that up with resources. In avionics, where I suspect testing is the majority of the process, there are probably big wins to be had here by adopting selected ideas from Agile development.

        I'd think th

    • I think that the operational flight software in an airplane should have to go though some kind of review as the last thing you want is a BSOD taking out the system in when the plane is in flight.

      The basic idea of Ada.

  • Former Marine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:44PM (#36828804) Homepage Journal

    I spent my time under Clinton and Bush Jr as a 4067. That's a Computer Programmer in the Marine Corps. We had pretty solid gear available, decent servers, and a great network. One royal PITA though was the primary personel database was replicated out nightly from Kansas city. So any intra-base changes could take a full 24 hour window to propagate. Additionally, every 6 months we'd get someone new in charge of that database. And by "in charge" I mean a comitee, not a new DBA. And they would be compelled to rename half the tables and columns. Acronyms are good for 6 months, then all field names are typed in full, then we're down to 4 character codes, then into some strange "drop the vowels" campaign. ROYAL PITA.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, in 2001 Bush and military leadership privatized the entire 4000 MOS field. 4066 (networkers) and 4067 (programmers) were lat moved to the 0600 MOSs (radio operators and field wiremen, along with some shunting to admin/clerical). So at the point I was heading out, we were going from a situation where Marines could review and make recommendations, to the point where purchasing decisions were almost entirely in the hands of private contractors.

    It was removing just another cog in the machine to streamline the federal cash to corporate pockets process as the Foxes are now instructing the farmer on how to build a hen house.


    • It was removing just another cog in the machine to streamline the federal cash to corporate pockets process as the Foxes are now instructing the farmer on how to build a hen house.

      ...and the FOXes are selling support of it to the public. ;-)

  • ... the department is pretty much in the Stone Age as far as IT is concerned...

    They said the same thing just before the toasters arrived.

    • Well, if you recall, or perhaps this was your entire point, it was the ONE Battlestar that didn't have all the computers networked and in the process of being mothballed for being too old, that wasn't blown to bits by them "toasters".

  • Already up to date (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:45PM (#36828820)

    He cited problems with proprietary systems that aren't connected to anything else and are unable to quickly adapt to changing needs. 'We have huge numbers of data links that move data between proprietary platforms â" one point to another point,' he said.

    To me that sounds like military IT is perfectly in tune with modern corporate IT. It sure sounds like every big company (or even smaller ones) I've ever been at.

    The problem is what he really wants is the future. What he really needs is a good IT dictator with some vision, and a lot of power to send balky IT people out to the front line. If anyone can iron out the ego issues that keep traditional IT mired in fiefdoms, it should be the military...

    • by iamwahoo2 ( 594922 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:54PM (#36828908)
      A critical difference between corporations and the military or any federal organization is that you cannot overcome these problems by simply appointing super great leaders, because those leaders will still be bound by the same federal laws. The problems really do start and end with Congress and that is what the General was getting at when he talked about contractors knowing how to manipulate the procurement system. Federal and Military employees are extremely limited in how they can manage a contract or bid. A contractor that knows how to manipulate the system knows that they can easily lock the Federal Gov into proprietary platforms and that there is not a whole lot that the government can do to get out of it until Congress changes procurement laws.
      • This is totally not any different than companies that ALSO have vendors who know how to work the procurement system. I once specced out some hardware for purchase by a company, that was replaced instead at purchase by totally different hardware that I had explicitly said WOULD NOT WORK after evaluation. So they bought it and I shelved it after some failures and we never got the hardware that worked.

        A really great leader is one that knows how to skirt the annoying laws that bind them. Just because you hav

        • You confuse a law for a regulation, and a corporate one at that.

          The problem at the DoD is that for any of those procurement processes there are multiple layers of regulations and laws that if violated will allow the contractor to sue the US Government and in some cases the official overseeing the contract. Short of a few anti-trust and contract rules, as an individual corporation you are free to solicit bids from anyone or exclude anyone for (almost) any reason. The Secretary of Defense does not have t
        • Yes, I am sure that we have all observed instances of this in every organization, but there is a big difference between policies and lack of communication driving these poor decision and the threat of jail time, because that would be what a military or federal worker could face if violating government laws on procurement. It is totally different.
    • True.

      'It's crazy, we buy proprietary [and] we don't understand what it is we're buying into,' he said. 'It works great for an application, and then you come to conflict and you spend the rest of your time trying to modify it to actually do what it should do.'

      This sounds like every corporation where I have ever worked.

      • True.

        'It's crazy, we buy proprietary [and] we don't understand what it is we're buying into,' he said. 'It works great for an application, and then you come to conflict and you spend the rest of your time trying to modify it to actually do what it should do.'

        This sounds like every corporation where I have ever worked.

        Some companies experience a lot more pain than others when it comes to that, though.

  • outgoing federal CIO Vivek Kundra said the same IT contractors keep getting government business not because they are necessarily providing the best technology, but because they understand the procurement system. He described it as almost an "IT cartel" within federal IT.

    ...and you fixed that...how? Don't let the door hit you on the ass...

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:52PM (#36828886)

    Military, Police, Fire departments....
    Have this odd mindset when making decisions. Way back I was putting a bid in to to do a financial report in (I think we proposed a basic Crystal report to read off their SQL Database) reports for a fire department. Quick job easy to do... If the project failed no real impact. However the Chief was insist the quality of the the product was of utmost concern because what the do can be the difference between life and death. Then they went with an other company who was willing to make their own reporting system from scratch for a lot more, but they liked it because it was there and custom just for them. And some how this system was better then using an off the shelf system. And being that their jobs are so important they deserve better then off the shelf.

    A lot of the mind set is in terms of hardware these groups have a lot of specialized equipment that is better then off the shelf, and non standard. Firetrucks, Police Cars which are highly modified version of standard cars, the military has "Military Grade" for their equipment. So they are use to thinking that their stuff in order to be useful needs to be non-standard and custom.

    I am sure we know IT is kinda more broad. That a system designed to process data for 100,000 people either for corporate use or military makes little difference. The difference is if something goes wrong do you get attacked by lawyers from the company or do you get attacked by the lawyers of the military.

    The internet is such a hostile place to move your data anyways military grade isn't any different, they just do it in a way that makes it difficult for it to moved to the right spots.

    • The difference is if something goes wrong do you get attacked by lawyers from the company or do you get attacked by the lawyers of the military.

      I was out at STRATCOM around '95 doing a computer upgrade. Given the role of the computers at this site I had a guard with a gun standing behind me the whole time. You better believe I hoped nothing would "go wrong". Lawyers were the least of my worries.

      • Do you really think the guards will shoot you if you had a technical problem? I think they were there to make sure you didn't steal the equipment or walk home with a bunch of data.

    • The internet is such a hostile place to move your data anyways military grade isn't any different, they just do it in a way that makes it difficult for it to moved to the right spots.

      In theory military grade could be a thing for IT. It could be strong encryption, dedicated and untappable links, quantum cryptography, etc. However, making something considerably more secure while also keeping up with the pace of development in IT is next to impossible.

  • Lobbyists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:55PM (#36828916) Journal

    This is what you get when government bureaucrats are bribed and bidders take the rest of platforms that are needed. Surprise, since I.T. in these departments have no say in the purchases all hell breaks loose and the government wonders why hundreds of billions of dollars are missing. Meanwhile the corrupt companies use that money earned to buy off more politicians to write laws stating to buy their products at inflated prices where you and I pay for them in our taxes. Lovely ... anyone in the private sector knows what I am talking about too with this. Specifically when a CEO has lunch with his buddy at Crapware Inc, which sells a product that you need to support that only works with Windows Vista update 23303 on May 12th 2009 ... on a tuesday, in addition to another product that Crapware Inc. sells, that only works with IE 6 in Windows XP with Java 1.3.1, not 1.3.2 or 1.3.0, which all of course has to communicate together. More fun and joy and of course it is all your fault and not the CEO if it is expensive and can't work together you are the computer guy right?

    The difference is in government all software and hardware is done this way and not just for some dumb executive's decision one time. Maybe if the pentagon had a CIO who made these decisions instead they could standardize on a platform so they can talk to each other.

    • The purpose of government procurement is to make contractors rich, create opportunities to solicit bribes and to secure jobs in the private sector for the apparatchik after they retire from "public service". Buying systems that actually work would be counterproductive so it never happens.
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:57PM (#36828934)

    When your process is so complex that procurement types have to go to classes just to understand it and has so many rules that no one really understands it you get a system that heavily favors companies that understand the rules better than the people running the system. They know exactly what to do to meet the letter of the law and how to protest if they lose a bid so inmany cases the government is at their mercy. Combine that with a contracting officer's fear of even accidentally violating the rules and winding up in trouble and you have a system that always goes the "safe" route

    • Wow! Most poignant and true statement about the procurement process I have read to date. I would, however, like to add that "safe" route doesn't mean "nobody got fired for buying IBM" or other trusted entity. Safe means lowest bidder, or, the one that meets the letter, not the spirit of the requirement. It is what happens when those who are doing the purchasing are separated from those who need the purchased items.
  • by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @05:57PM (#36828938)

    what do you really expect when you whore out every project to the (random) lowest bidder?

    • Re:yea well (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @06:38PM (#36829348) Homepage
      But it's no longer the lowest bidder. The way it usually works in military IT systems, is someone's getting out, either by retirement or just ETS'ing. They see a need and talk with their buddies about what exactly they (in that small unit) need or want in a system. They then rough out some very specific specs, rough up an initial product and then work with their buddies to finalize their product to meet those very specific needs. And they start Battle Specific Hardware Internetworking Tech Inc. and make up pretty business cards that say BSHiT Inc.

      The buddies in the military then start the procurement process for said very specific system, setting the specs to be exactly matching what they and their former military buddies at BSHiT have developed. They do this because they know that in a few years when they get out, doing so will guarantee a nice high paying position at BSHit Inc.

      Thus when bid time comes, anyone else has to design a system from scratch, to meet those very specific criteria, while BSHiT Inc, has the product already designed and built exactly to the required specs. And thus not having to go through a full design process they are able to bid very competitively, plus they have the in with the buddies still in the service who are managing the program, thus they win the bid because they have the advantage of not just being very competitive on the bid but also having "Worked very closely in the development of the product to meet the specs (when the specs were actually created to meet the product), so they win the bid.

      Now as the procurement process goes on, other units and folks in the same field also now get to chirp in with what they'd like this system to include. Oh it needs to be able to communicate over the radio, and that radio, and satellite and Ethernet and via cans on a string! It needs this, it needs that. And thus the hardware becomes a mishmash. Then it needs to be hardened.

      And finally we get to the software, to make the sale they gin up their software package, ensuring it works wonders in the small scale demonstration. That's fine until it gets deployed and the software soon craps out when the real-world turns into a large scale event.

      So finally the product gets to the soldiers in the field, they are ordered to use this system because we've spent millions buying and fielding it, but it barely works. Oh but BSHiT wisely built a very expensive support system into the purchase contracts, so now on every major FOB in Iraq and Afghanistan they're paying some slob six figures tax free to keep the system barely scraping along. This highly paid geek, who gets full room and board for free as well, might have to occasionally work, but after a couple years they've tweaked the system and trained the soldiers how to not crash the system so they might have to work a couple hours a week.

      So the system scrapes along, and it survives because the soldiers figure out how to work around the system. They create their products, then export them to MS Office, clean them up and email the products. Their still running the overpriced, under-capable system but their best final products are created by taking the output of the system, importing it into a kludged together Access database, and presented via PowerPoint or on a Publisher produced website. But when asked they can always point to the BSHiT system and prove that they are using the system.

      Lowest bidder didn't win because to be lowest bidder they couldn't quite meet the custom designed specs.

      Oh and after a few years BSHiT will be swallowed up by Lockheed, L3, or one of the other big corps. The product and service won't improve, just the name behind it gets better known.
  • They are complaining about "It's crazy, we buy proprietary [and] we don't understand what it is we're buying into", AFTER the NMCI>/a>? [wikipedia.org]

    Which was/is a fiasco, one I had direct experience with, and predictably so before it was started. But they wanted it.

    Now they complain. And I'm hoping the General isn't focusing on battlefield systems, cause that's a world of a very different design and build philosophy, and needs change to survive in the modern era.

  • by AntiBasic ( 83586 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @06:32PM (#36829274)

    I enlisted under what the navy calls Advanced Electronics Computer Field. I expected to actually, ya know, work on advanced electronics or computers. Was I in for a shock. Instead, I wasted my early and mid 20's working on 1970's era comm gear. The computer I spent the most time on was the UYK-20 which actually had a PAPER TAPE as the primary method of input. I actually envisioned working on modern equipment. The newest piece of gear I got to work on was the R-2368 receiver.

    God I wish I could sue the navy for false advertising. Fuck them.

  • Gee, I wonder why no one was listening to the /.ers ten years ago when we were basically warning anyone who held still for long enough that buy-in == lock-in.
  • Defense is a sector where free markets dont play a role. I am absolutely sure: If you have a small startup which implements a brilliant system, you would go bankrupt before you are allowed to link it to the systems of the big guys. Then they would buy the rest of that startup for nothing.

  • I worked for the Marine Corps Systems Command (Quantico, VA) and tried mightily to move the Corps to inexpensive open systems and protocols. I don't know where General Cartwright was at the time, but the Marine Corps leadership did not look kindly on my attempts to implement solutions to the problems the General states exist. The General was quoted as saying "... we buy proprietary [and] we don't understand what it is we're buying into," My direct experience says this not a true statement. The Marine Corps
  • I currently work as an Air Force civilian and the biggest single problem is the crazy accreditation process. We would LOVE to use the best and newest open source programs and utilities to do our jobs but we are stuck using technology from 5-6 years ago because the accreditation process was intentionally created by contractors to be as complex as possible so that only they were qualified to get anything approved. (Job security anyone?) Got a great new product that would save 1,000 lives and countless mill
  • The technology we have today is part of the problem. It simply does not allow the easy storage and retrieval of information. When I say "easy", I mean as easy as storage being "here are the data" and retrieval being "give me such and such data". There is a tremendous amount of work required to make information available for storage and retrieval.

    The core issue of the problem is that there is not a single standard protocol about information. Each database, application and operating system speaks its own lang

  • who had pointed this out!

    oh wait. there was. in the NSA, there were quite a few actually.

  • i worked for NC3A for a while so became very familiar with this situation, which applies just as well to the local Reservoir Water Supply (which has to be secure!) as it does to Police, Fire and Military. the problems that secure locations have is that both the supplier and the software itself require "vetting". the actual cost of this vetting is itself both significant and time-consuming. i heard of one organisation that was still using python 2.1 in 2007, a full 5 years after it had been retired - it wa

  • "Hoss" could do something right away - scuttle the "upgrade" to Vista and go straight to Win7. I know, I know, the whole business of using MS in the government is insane, but it would be nice to get to spend less by avoinding some of the criminal insanity,
  • http://www.pdfernhout.net/recognizing-irony-is-a-key-to-transcending-militarism.html [pdfernhout.net]
    "Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead? ... Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per sq

"If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." -- Albert Einstein