The circuit

Cajun Cutoff

During the first half of 2003, the Thrift Savings Plan received an average of 3,700 calls a day. In July, however, the average shot up to 37,000 calls a day, and during the summer, "we've had several days that were over 100,000," said Lawrence Stiffler, director of automated systems for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

Board officials acknowledge that some of the calls were related to frustration over the TSP's dysfunctional Web site, but they are not sure why the volume increased so dramatically.

Whatever the cause, the impact was not limited to the National Finance Center, the Agriculture Department agency in New Orleans that hosts the TSP computers and call center. The flood of calls also overwhelmed the local telephone company, Bell South Corp.

"Bell South got so many calls it shut down service for all of New Orleans'" east side, Stiffler told the board Aug. 18.

As a temporary fix, the phone company blocked some incoming calls to the TSP, giving callers a busy-circuits signal. The block was lifted Aug. 5 after the system was augmented with new capacity, and by mid-August the flood of calls started to taper off, Stiffler said.

Watchful Eye, Part I

The Justice Department Office of the Inspector General's latest report on the FBI's ability — or inability — to track and stop the activities of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent convicted on 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy in 2001, shows the agency had a lot to learn about insider computer security practices.

At one point, the IG discovered that Hanssen had hacked into the systems of his colleagues and supervisors in the National Security Division and accessed highly sensitive Soviet counterintelligence documents. Then Hanssen got nervous and decided to report himself under the pretext that his actions were an effort to reveal a hole in the agency's security. "Hanssen's ruse succeeded, and no one questioned his breach of computer security," the IG report states.

The FBI did notice when he later tried to install a password cracker on his system, but he said it was to connect to a color printer, and "as with Hanssen's other security violations, nothing about the matter was recorded in either his personnel or security file," the IG found.

Watchful Eye, Part II

Internet users visiting the Web site are greeted with the statement, "To the Department of Homeland Security, you are no longer an American, you are a potential terrorist."

The site, created by Bill Scannell of Texas, rages against the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II being tested by DHS' Transportation Security Administration.

CAPPS II, or the "Orwellian airline security program," as Scannell calls it, is designed to use travelers' personal information to verify passenger identities and target potential terrorists.

Scannell's Web site lists seven things to do to stop CAPPS II from becoming fully operational. The site also decries the working agreement of Galileo, a subsidiary of Cendant Corp., in the testing of CAPPS II, calling Galileo a "police state collaborator."

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