Monitoring terrorists has become a top priority at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has repeatedly said that the job of defending America against terrorism is being complicated by new technologies. In the early 1990s, the FBI floated several technical proposals to make the job easier. Among these proposals were the development of new wiretapping technologies, restrictions on cryptography, and the prescreening of airline passengers. One of the leading voices for these programs inside the FBI was James D. Kallstrom, who was the FBI's chief of engineering in Quantico, Virginia, before he became director of the FBI's New York office.
In 1997, I met with Kallstrom to talk about the problems of terrorism and the potential impacts on freedom and privacy. The meeting happened during the middle of the TWA Flight 800 investigation, and it was clear that the ongoing investigation had taken a toll on Kallstrom. A year later, he left the FBI to take a job as a vice president at a major financial institution.
Kallstrom told me that monitoring terrorists is very difficult:
When I came to the FBI, the challenge of the day was organized crime. That was really child's play compared to the challenge of the groups that we deal with today. They don't have a definitive hierarchical structure. They don't have disciplined rules of engagement. They don't have a clearinghouse of authorities. They don't have central control. They don't have all those things that allow you, if you ...