Months before his death, Osama bin Laden -- with the help of corporate America's national security infrastructure, screwed up my driver's license. If you live outside California you probably haven't heard this tale of fail. It's unfolded in slow motion over months, resulting in massive backlogs of unfulfilled license renewals, people driving without valid licenses because they have no other choice, and the boondoggle of using a company -- L-1 Identity Solutions -- that cornered the market on US production of passports and driver licenses.
It is yet another example of the polar opposite of a free market, a more standard story of a US company that inexplicably soaked up all the business in a certain area. In the process of the war on terror becoming a single source, and -- as a result -- leaving everyone in the state of California inconvenienced and without recourse while providing inferior service.
Since late last year L-1 Identity Solutions has had a series of failures, poorly described in the press, in manufacturing California's new license.
These failures were so profound that at one point 80 percent of entire lots of license production were deemed defective.
The CA Department of Motor Vehicles processes 40,000 licenses a day.
So any screw up in the pipeline in a state this large immediately cascades into a problem affecting everyone. And as the license renewals piled up, an awesome barrier of delay and inadequacy was created.
By February, the Sacramento Bee newspaper had reported a backlog of 850,000 waiting to receive new licenses. At that point, the state instituted an e-mail point on the DMV page so drivers could inquire as to the status of their renewal. The volume of queries crashed the system.
A friend of mine waited about a quarter of a year for her new license.
At one point she had to apply for a temporary through the Department of Motor Vehicles, a process that was also, naturally, backlogged.
As for myself, I've been waiting for almost three months for the new license. My current license expired almost two months ago. In the meantime, the state began issuing automatic temporaries to fill the gap. They are valid for ninety days. My temporary arrived last week.
However, as with everyone caught in this high-tech trap, there was a window in which I had no valid driver license.
Since almost all Californians over the age of twenty depend on their auto-transportation, this presented a huge number of drivers who, if pulled over, would have no valid paper. As a response, the state informed police officers to run such drivers, when they were stopped, through their computer system. If it returned information that the renewal fee had been sent in that acted as verification of license.
But this is now also the time of the TSA and needing a valid photo ID -- like a license -- to get on an airplane.
I've seen no statistics on people who just abandoned the idea of flying if caught by the license "outage," so to speak.
However, I was one of them. My mother died in Pennsylvania when I had no valid photo driver's license and no temporary. Flying to PA was out. So I missed the funeral. (In full disclosure, we weren't close. But it would have been nice to have had the option to consider, not something unilaterally removed because of a screw-up at one of America's taxpayer-funded homeland security companies.)
And I am also sure many other people, for any variety of reasons, just gave up on the idea of flying because of the license fiasco.
If you just Google L-1 Identity Solutions you'll immediately see how corporate spam and astroturf has defeated the giant search engine. You can go through pages and pages of results and not find anything about L-1's major failure with California.
This is no accident. That's how corporate America, at its best, works. It takes some effort to get past walls of obfuscation and even the mandarins of Google can't fix it.
L-1 came into being after 9/11 and expanded explosively.
Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
For Robert LaPenta, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Stamford-based L-1 Identity Solutions, that day's terrorist attacks led to an epiphany about U.S. defense, and a company aimed at filling the huge, suddenly apparent, gaps.
"I watched the towers come down from my offices on 600 Third Ave.," said LaPenta, who was president of a company he co-founded, L-3 Communications, at the time.
"It was that event that really was the genesis, the starting point of me beginning to think about a new business that ultimately spawned L-1," he said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
"I realized on that day that we spent $600 billion a year on aerospace, defense, ships, planes and weaponry, you name it," LaPenta said. "None of those things really mattered when it came to what transpired on 9/11, where 20 terrorists with basically false driver's licenses and a $25,000 budget were able to inflict the biggest attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor."
Homeland security issues will fuel much of L-1's future growth, LaPenta said, adding that about 80 percent to 90 percent of L-1's business comes from public sector customers such as federal, state, local and foreign governments ...
LaPenta said the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the unsuccessful "Christmas bomber," who tried to light a plastic explosive with a syringe sewn into his underwear on Northwest Flight 253 near Detroit, will ensure future demand from government customers.
It's worth noting puckishly that L-1 Identity's current mishandling of CA driver licenses would have certainly slowed any 9/11 bombers' desires to quickly acquire them.
The 9/11 attackers' strategy was procedural and based on system exploitation, not on high-tech stuff embedded in newfangled documents.
Just as the California license imbroglio was warming up late last year, this article on more of L-1's gadgets hit Wired on-line, part of the Empire's Dog Feces beat (aka security tech news to give the nerdy-boy crowd erections):
In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. troops use handheld devices to take iris scans and thumb prints off of detainees and put them in vast databases to distinguish insurgents from civilians. Now your local cops are getting in on the action.
L-1 Identity Solutions, a four-year-old company, makes the Handheld Interagency Identity Detection System (HIIDE), a mobile device that digitally records someone's iris, fingerprint and facial characteristics "to create a comprehensive database on the enrolled subject." The tool, which has earned high marks in Iraq and Afghanistan, is marketed to cops, as a way to avoid taking suspects to booking stations,
Bravo! Face recognition software for Afghanistan, arrested Americans and -- maybe, according to stories -- dead Osama bin Laden.
In California, we'd still like our driver licenses. In the war on terror, bin Laden won that exchange.
Back in January (it's now month five of 2011 and still not straightened out), the LA Times reported:
DMV Director George Valverde said the vendor, L-1 Identity Solutions, has struggled with color accuracy, the raised lettering and the positioning of images of California icons, including El Capitan in Yosemite and the Golden Gate Bridge. L-1 was the only bidder on the five-year, $63-million job, Valverde said ... But when production on the new cards began, 80% of the cards in some daily batches contained errors. In such cases, Valverde said, the agency would return the entire batch to the vendor. Complicating matters, some days the vendor delivered no cards, and the agency quickly fell behind its usual pace.
Congratulations to the national security company of war on terror opportunists! Turned a great profit, made Osama's efforts look good and a whole lot of us in California really p.o.'d. Progress and innovation, the American way!
This post was originally published at Dick Destiny blog. A great place to visit -- enjoy the readings, stay for the jokes!