9-11 Commission stresses info sharing

9/11 Commission

The final report of the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks called for major reforms in the intelligence community's organization and practices, including the development of a decentralized network for sharing information.

Several homeland security and technology experts said that although some of the particulars are new, many are not. Some ideas reinforce what has been proposed in other reports, such as a Markle Foundation recommendation for a trusted information-sharing network.

Other recommendations for an entry/ exit screening and tracking system, biometric passports and use of scanning technologies in the transportation sector already are being implemented to some extent.

But the strength of the report -- released last week by the 10-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9-11 Commission -- is its emphasis on the need for better collaboration among the various agencies, the experts said.

"When you hear FBI or CIA [officials] talk today, they say they learned their lesson, and they're sharing information," said Jim Lewis, senior fellow and director of the technology program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's not clear how effective that is, and there are still complaints about information flows. But this report just calls attention to the fact there was a problem, and it reinforces the fact that people should be doing something about it."

Tom Cowper, a staff inspector with the New York State Police who is detailed to the state's Office for Technology, said it's a people issue not a technology issue. Technology is advancing at an exponential pace, but agency officials, for the most part, are still using inefficient business processes.

The report stresses reform, but "can we bite the bullet and change the way we do business?" asked Cowper, a member of the Society of Police Futurists International. "If we continue business as usual, we're going to be in trouble."

The commission's 567-page report did not blame individuals for the events leading up to the terrorist attacks three years ago but called for sweeping changes to prevent another one.

"As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability and, above all, the failure of imagination," said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, the commission's chairman, who added that the country must not wait to make changes.

Collaboration and information sharing emerged as major themes of the report. "The United States government has access to vast amounts of information, but it has a weak process, a weak system of processing and using that information," said Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former congressman. " 'Need to share' must replace 'need to know.' "

To that end, commission members proposed replacing the director of central intelligence with a national intelligence

director who would oversee all intelligence agencies and be able to establish information-sharing and information technology policies, among other things.

Lewis didn't necessarily see that as an improvement, saying that a national intelligence director isn't necessarily going to fix systemic problems.

Frank Cilluffo, a former special assistant to President Bush for homeland security, said presidential support is needed for a national intelligence director to succeed. But he didn't think it should be a Cabinet- level position.

"I've seen more proposals to create czars, and I've yet to find a Cossack in all of Washington," he said.

But what would help, experts said, is strengthening the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, a multiagency initiative to collect, analyze and disseminate information.

"The one thing that we can't forget is, unlike in the past where intelligence had pretty clearly defined customers, now our customers are also state and local, first responders, hospitals, primary care physicians, on and on and on and on," said Cilluffo, who now teaches and directs George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute.

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GOVERNMENT'S POST-SEPT.11 TO DO LIST

Some major recommendations by the 9-11 Commission:

Use a decentralized network, not a mainframe system, to share information among national security officials.

Create a national counterterrorism center built on the Terrorist Threat Integration Center foundation for joint operational planning and joint

intelligence.

Appoint a national intelligence director to oversee and manage national intelligence programs and agencies, and establish information-sharing and information technology policies.

Screen people using biometric identifiers across border and transportation systems by designing a comprehensive screening system that addresses common problems and sets common standards.

Establish standards for issuing birth certificates, driver's licenses and other identification documents.

Continue using no-fly lists until a better computerized airline passenger screening system is developed.

Allocate more radio spectrum and improve connectivity for public safety agencies.

Create permanent committees for homeland security oversight in the House and Senate.

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