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Revelations last week that the National Security Agency on Sept. 10 intercepted two cryptic messages in Arabic that referred to a major event for the next day--but failed to process them until Sept. 12--raises questions about whether American intelligence agencies have the technology and the mind-set to quickly prioritize and analyze gigabytes of data collected daily. The NSA is known for deploying state-of-the-art IT systems to capture and analyze data. But translating captured messages into English requires human involvement.
"Current technology isn't trusted yet," says Gary Strong, program director for bio-informatics at the National Science Foundation. Furthermore, intelligence analysts need to recognize the significance of the cryptic communications. People familiar with NSA's analytical technologies say that even if the messages were translated on Sept. 10, it's unlikely the analysts would have been able to envisage suicide air strikes.