Congress questions intell sharing center

Sharing information may sound easy, but it is an area that has Congress, the FBI, the CIA and the Homeland Security Department tied up in knots.

To date, few intelligence databases have been successfully connected to one another, although there is much talk about doing so. Terrorist watch lists have not been consolidated, and intelligence agencies are still struggling to end their turf wars.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "there was a failure to connect the dots," Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said during a July 22 congressional hearing on how agencies are sharing information to prevent another attack.

Lawmakers contend that, considering the severe nature of the attacks, any change is a good one.

In his January State of the Union address, President Bush announced the formation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), which would analyze intelligence data and send it to the right places.

But at the hearing, lawmakers and others were skeptical that it could work. It is still unclear who is responsible for ensuring that information goes to the right place at the right time, complained Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas).

"If we do not have a clear plan on where terrorism information should be reported and who is responsible for analyzing it, we run a grave risk of missing key information that could prevent the next Sept. 11," Turner said.

TTIC is intended to "detect and prevent terrorist acts, not to clean up after them," countered Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

"If we are to draw one lesson from [Sept. 11], it is this: We did not have all the information we needed when we needed it," Cox said.

Bush administration officials defend the creation of a domestic terrorist analysis center even though Democrats and civil liberties groups have many concerns.

At the hearing, intelligence officials said TTIC has adequate mechanisms to properly analyze and distribute the data. If American lives are at stake, officials will make sure data reaches the right hands, said John Brennan, TTIC's director, who testified the a joint hearing of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Homeland Security Select Committee on July 22. "I'm going to ring the bell long and hard," he added.

Following the attacks, which exposed gaps in U.S. intelligence, lawmakers questioned the need for another intelligence agency, such as the center, when the FBI and CIA could establish an improved system to share information about potential terrorists.

"I'm having trouble understanding the rationale for this agency," said Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.).

But Brennan and others say the mandate is simple: Take the intelligence and analyze it. TTIC has a classified Web site to provide terrorism-related information for about 2,000 officials with security clearances, he said. They are working to expand the database to include material for state and local governments and private industry.

Brennan said his group does not gather information or engage in operations. It is not officially part of the CIA, but is a joint venture that includes the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Still, the new age of intelligence gathering has traditional civil liberties groups worried, especially about TTIC.

"It appears to have been cut loose" from oversight, said Jerry Berman, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Who's going to mind the store in making sure that national security and civil liberties are protected?"

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Information impasse

An independent commission found intelligence failures before Sept. 11, 2001.

* Intelligence agencies could have disrupted the attacks if agents had been more aggressive in pursuing leads buried in the files of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.

* There were dozens of FBI and CIA reports that suggested terrorists wanted to use aircraft as weapons, but no one analyzed or followed up on them.

* The CIA and FBI failed to act decisively on information about the identities of two suspected terrorists. The CIA did not send the information about the men to the FBI until about two weeks before the attacks. And the FBI did not send the information to the FBI division in San Diego, where the men were living.

* The hijackers had a support network in the United States that provided them with housing and other essentials. At least 14 people were identified as part of the group, including four who were subjects of U.S. agencies' counterterrorism probes before the attacks.

Source: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks

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