IN OTHER WORDS: Terror list

A half-billion-dollar emergency programme to repair the nation’s main and deeply flawed terrorist watch list is “on the brink of collapse,” according to a Congressional investigation. That means that warning signs of a terrorist attack could again be lost in the chaos. The new programme, known as Railhead, is intended to fix the problems with the current outmoded programme.

Bush administration officials have been pronouncing Railhead a success. But the investigation by a House Science and Technology subcommittee found it crippled by serious design flaws, management blunders and runaway contractors. Hundreds of private contractors from dozens of companies involved were recently laid off as government managers finally ordered a fresh overhaul in the face of “insurmountable” problems. Some of the flaws discovered are mind-bogglingly basic. The Railhead database, it seems, also has fundamental problems with its search function.

The Bush administration is far too focused on pushing through new ways to spy on Americans — like the FBI guidelines that the Justice Department appears poised to approve. Railhead’s deficiencies demonstrate that the administration’s first priority should be getting the nation’s terror-fighting infrastructure in order — and analysing the data it already has.