This is the story of the first 15 years of how we have dealt with that newfound fear—how we have confronted, sometimes heroically and sometimes irrationally, the mechanics, the politics, and the psychic challenges of the September 12 era. ... Have we succeeded in toughening up what overnight became known as “homeland security”? Absolutely. But not without a series of extravagant boondoggles along the way. ... Are we safer? Yes, we’re safer from the kind of orchestrated attack that shocked us on that September morning. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular if they do. But we have not plugged some of the most threatening security gaps. Worse, as the Orlando massacre reminded us, the world has become more populated by those who want to exploit those gaps, including those living among us—and who, in the United States, can easily obtain military-grade weapons. They are not deterred by the prospect of their own death, and they are happy to commit acts less ambitious than those of 9/11. That makes their attacks much harder to detect in advance. Our defenses are far stronger, but what we have to defend against has outpaced our progress. ... Have we adjusted, politically and emotionally, so that we can make rational decisions as a government and as a people to deal with the ongoing threat? Not yet. In a bitterly divided democracy, where attention spans are short and civic engagement is low and the potential for oversimplification and governing-by-headlines is high, that is hardly a surprise.
While Donald Trump was promising last year to drain the swamp in Washington, a long, quiet battle to drain an especially entrenched, money-wasting corner of that morass was reaching a surprising turning point in a courthouse that sits a few hundred feet from the White House. ... Only days before the presidential election, a judge in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered the Pentagon to reverse course in a major procurement bidding process. The decision marked the dramatic end of a long first round in what was an unusually bitter and consequential fight for this obscure court. As of press time, the ruling was being appealed through the usual legal channels. ... the dispute’s outcome may now be determined not by the courts, but rather by President Trump and some of his administration’s most powerful players. They are all connected to a controversial company that began an unprecedented battle eight years ago to crash a long-running, exclusive party involving the annual dispensing of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. ... The Army chose instead to favor an updated version of a deeply flawed system created by a team of defense contractors that epitomizes the Washington establishment: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others. Over 16 years the system had produced cascading cost overruns, and bills of nearly $6 billion. The result had been a platform that troops in the field and Government Accountability Office auditors agreed was so clunky to use, when it worked at all, that it often sat unplugged and shoved under desks at various outposts. ... Yet the requirements for the new version disqualified what Philippone believed was Palantir’s proven, off-the-shelf platform, which could be supplied to all the troops for about $100 million a year.