Friday, January 8, 2010
Administration vs Terrorism
So, somebody made a spelling mistake in the name of a terrorist. Mistakes in official documents also happen, according to my experience of 70 years and lots of travels, about ten percent of the times, more so, obviously in countries that are not your own. I have had in turn on my passport/identity/visa forms/driver's license and various permits the wrong first name, the wrong middle name, the wrong date of birth, and one time the wrong sex. Several times, the authorities refused to correct their mistake: it was not in the power of the person handling me the document.And the name Lambert is shorter to spell than Abdulmutallab.
I am quite certain that somewhere in the US archives, somebody has statistics about mistakes done on uncommon and difficult names. And obviously nothing came out of it. As Justin Fox remarked today in his blog, how come the State Department is not equipped to handle this? Police files have many cases of people trying to escape justice by changing themselves a small detail in their own identity, so we must account for our own administrative mistakes plus a number of cheaters.
If you had asked me a few days ago how I imagined the State Department verifies if you have a visa, I would have said: "They probably have a list of similar names coming up with access to your picture, face recognition stuff, prints, possibly coded access to your whole file and the various alerts from different departments, CIA, criminal files, etc." I would also imagine that if you look for a Nigerian who has been a student in Britain, they all come up on the touch of a button.You could check on the list who also has a visa for the US. All this is elementary, so I also hope they get a good intersect with other agencies. Is it too much to ask?
Why is it the way it should work? I do stuff like that all the time with history problems. For instance, if I want to know who was at the US embassy in Vichy during WWII, it comes up, at the touch of a button and in a few minutes work.
Searching is a skill: it can be learned. How educated are people of the State Department in searching? How fast do they find ten red balloons?
How do you do a decent job without a decent instrument? A good no-nonsense search software seems to me more efficient than waterboarding!