The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

October 31, 2013

Feds proving Internet-adept and inept at same time

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to computers, the Obama administration appears simultaneously to be a bungling amateur and a stealthy wizard. The same government that reportedly intercepted the communications of America's leading consumer technology firms, Google and Yahoo, without leaving a trace is scorned because it can't build a working federal website for health insurance.

In a single day in the nation's capital, extremes of the impressive successes and stunning failures of the Internet age were on full display.

Computer professionals said the government can be both adept and inept at the same time because the tasks are so different and for reasons involving who is doing it, for how much money, how long it takes and how publicly it is done.

Under a classified project called MUSCULAR, the National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Google and Yahoo data centers around the world, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing documents obtained from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. In the past 30 days, the NSA swept up and processed more than 180 million new records, including metadata indicating who sent and received emails and when it happened, the Post reported.

Across town, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was apologizing to Congress over the bungled healthcare.gov website. New documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that officials had worried that a lack of website testing posed a potentially high security risk. In yet another conflict-riddled Capitol Hill hearing, a congressman told Sebelius that she had put Americans' personal financial information at risk.

The difference? National priorities, including big differences in how much the government spends, plus the talent and expertise of the people the government hires.

The NSA's annual budget was just over $7 billion in fiscal 2013, according to budget documents leaked by Snowden. The budget for the entire Health and Human Services Department was less than $1 billion, and it spent $118 million on the website plus about $56 million on other IT to support the website, Sebelius said Wednesday.

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