BBG Digital Meltdown: The Perfect Storm

OPINION

Bureaucracy Warning Sign

Broadcasting Board of Governors Digital Meltdown: The Perfect Storm

 

US Government International Media Information War: Lost

 
By The Federalist
 
 
As reported by Broadcasting Board of Governors employees in BBG Watch, the agency’s primary digital production software platform, DALET, crashed sometime on Friday, May 16, 2018.

Some days later, the agency’s management reported that “an intermittently malfunctioning line card” was causing the connection issue.

They will place blame on a thing that can’t defend itself: a memory card, etc., whatever. They will never acknowledge how messed up the system really is because somewhere along the line everyone on the Third Floor has had some responsibility along the way.

A VOA broadcaster observed “I presume no one [will be] fired or even reprimanded. Blame deferred to another entity, problem solved, nothing to see here, move on.”

Sources have provided copies of agency memos on the meltdown.

DALET has been the agency’s primary digital production software for many years. It has never been fail safe or fool proof. At the beginning, interfacing with existing agency analog hardware was problematic.

When the agency was still primarily an audio/radio operation, it alone was a major undertaking just to handle the DALET connections for the agency’s radio equipment in radio Master Control, its many studios and its Central Recording facility, the newsroom and the various language services throughout the Voice of America (VOA).

Right from the beginning there were increasing demands on the agency’s power system and the issue of consumption of data use and data storage.

And then came television.

Power, data usage and storage increased exponentially.

Having sufficient power for all the related equipment got to the point that the agency needed a portable generator parked in spaces of the agency’s limited parking lot to handle the load.

When problems arose the prevailing sentiment seems to have been to push through a problem without properly identifying underlying causes and taking effective remedial action; a kind of “worry about it later” and keep the place running outlook.

And it is worth noting that this isn’t the first time the agency has had an IT meltdown, one of which had former IT director Andre Mendes issuing a memo apologizing for the interruption to agency’s operations and blaming contractors for cutting through a power cable.

But this latest crisis is the current “mother of all agency IT meltdowns.”

Video/television IT requirements far exceed those required of its radio operations. The television/video operations are all about insatiable consumption: staff, production time and ultimately putting a program on the air and the DALET software and hardware intending to harness data use and data storage.

And the other oddity: the more the agency spends and commits to its video/TV operations, the smaller the agency’s audiences appear to be for mission-oriented rather than click-bait content. If this were a private sector broadcaster and not an operation wholly subsidized by the US Government, the agency would have folded years ago.

But this is the Federal sector. Unfortunately, the US Government has long been in the habit of spending good money after bad when it comes to the BBG.

But there is something else to be concerned about.

Consider:

 

The Daily Beast: “Exclusive: U.S. Government Can’t Get Controversial Kaspersky Lab Software Off Its Networks”

 

You guessed it:

The Russians. Perhaps, also the Chinese, the Iranians, the Cubans or even the North Koreans.

This would be an opportune moment to recall a bold remark by Andre Mendes some time ago in which he claimed that he kicked the Chinese out of the agency’s IT systems.

If you know the agency you should know that on its face, the claim was likely not true. As one observer remarked, at best it may have been a partial success but no guarantee of other or future intrusions by the Chinese or anyone else. In the game of cyber-warfare, victories are momentary and fleeting.

Thus it is perhaps worth considering the possibility the Russians or some other hostile agent might be ready to mess with the agency’s IT infrastructure at any point. To outward appearances, ridding US Government IT systems of Russian intrusive software requires a top to bottom overhaul. That means each agency, each agency IT infrastructure. For a low priority agency like the Broadcasting Board of Governors it could be a long, long wait for that kind of remedial action. And in the meantime, the Russians would be poised to shut down the agency’s IT infrastructure in its entirety: nice and neat from the Russian perspective, the joyous sound of silence from all things BBG. And all the while they can sit back and watch the agency honchos scrambling, engaging in the “blame game,” pointing fingers at each other, various contractors and agency employees. This is the kind of divisiveness the Russians relish.

This would be especially enjoyable for the Russians with all the blowhard agency pronouncements related to its “Current Time” Russian-Language program program.

Even though the agency’s declarations of the program’s success are likely grossly and outrageously overblown, it doesn’t hurt to have the agency embarrassed by delivering a self-inflicted catastrophe on itself even if the Russians are not actively involved.

At the moment.

“Current Time” has a dismal web traffic rank in Russia as seen in this latest graph from SimilarWeb, a market intelligence tool.

 
 


 
 

But you can be sure the Russians are watching the situation closely.

Putin’s operatives are everywhere, 24/7.

Stay tuned for more.

The Federalist
June 2018

 
 

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1 Comment

  1. Assignment Desk

    BBG has got to be the only agency in the federal government
    where these kind of failures can happen again and again, with
    no consequences for managers. Pathetic.

    Reply

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