9-11 Commission: Boost intelligence sharing

Bush administration officials have vowed to act on recommendations by the 9-11 Commission to create a national counterterrorism center. They plan to build on the intelligence community's Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

John Brennan, TTIC's director, however, warned lawmakers last week that officials cannot be rushed into making complex technology decisions.

In testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Brennan said the commission's report offers a high-level view but is not the blueprint that officials need before proceeding with restructuring intelligence sharing.

Reforming information sharing across the intelligence community will require time for officials to understand a complicated system, said Brennan, who added that he nevertheless favored the creation of a counterterrorism center. "You're talking about a very, very intricate and interdependent system that is not yet in place," he said.

Brennan said the commission's report does not answer many protocol, policy and procedural questions that technology officials must resolve before creating the center.

Some observers say the intelligence community's challenge relates more to managing information than managing technology. Lee Strickland, a former CIA intelligence officer who teaches at the University of Maryland, said officials need to understand each intelligence agency's data architecture.

"You've got to have that before you can even begin to define the sharing," Strickland said. "That is really the crux of the matter." Conceptually, a counterrorism center makes sense, he said. "But the devil is in the details."

Other analysts had similar suggestions for intelligence officials. James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said an overall architectural blueprint for information sharing is crucial.

In some ways, he said, the commission's recommendation for intelligence sharing is old news. Federal officials have made strides toward sharing with the Terrorist Screening Center, for example, and with joint task forces involving local law enforcement officials.

But information sharing, he said, means more than placing a phone call, sending a fax, or transmitting e-mail or pager messages. Rarely are agencies sharing information using interactive databases.

"That's the next level of intelligence sharing," said Carafano, who also endorsed the idea of a national intelligence center for counterterrorism.

Carafano said the next level of intelligence sharing raises questions about protecting privacy and civil liberties and about how to handle sensitive analytical applications such as data mining and link analysis.

Formed by U.S. intelligence agencies about a year ago, TTIC gives analysts access to 26 separate federal networks. The proposed counterterrorism center would be a super-TTIC, as many have described it. Analysts would use the center to share foreign and domestic intelligence and conduct joint operational planning.

A national counterterrorism center would improve the collection and analysis of information, institutionalize policies and practices, and help intelligence officials coordinate strategies for action, according to several panelists who testified at other hearings last week.

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