So much for military intelligence. For eight years the U.S. government paid Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, more than $20 million for software he claimed could stop al Qaeda’s next attack by detecting secret messages in Al-Jazeera broadcasts, identify terrorists from predator drones, and detect noise from enemy submarines. But the software didn’t work, and the government is invoking national security to keep the details secret. The CIA was so excited about the technology at first, one former agency official says, people called it “the most important, most sensitive” program they had. But when it was used in 2003, it set off a false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airlines over the Atlantic Ocean to turn around. French officials, annoyed that the U.S. had grounded their planes, launched their own investigation into the program and determined it was a hoax. However, the U.S. kept turning to Montgomery, and in 2008, reacted to another false alarm—this time, Somali pirates plotting to disrupt President Obama’s inauguration. Not only did the government not look into Montgomery, it was determined that no one else should either. In the last few months, the Justice Department has issued protective orders to keep details of his software in court, some, like Montgomery’s former lawyer, say it is to save itself the embarrassment. Montgomery is currently in bankruptcy in Palm Springs, Calif, and facing charges of passing $1.8 million in bad checks at Vegas casinos.
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