NIPC split causes concern

NIPC

The National Infrastructure Protection Center's future may be in doubt within the FBI, but Director Robert Mueller last week assured Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that he would discuss any plans with the senator before making a final decision on whether to dismantle the center.

Grassley sent a letter March 19 to Mueller raising serious concerns about the FBI's plan to dismantle NIPC and split its pieces between the agency's criminal and counterterrorism divisions.

According to a member of Grassley's staff, in a letter dated March 21, Mueller said he will "talk or meet with Sen. Grassley before making a final decision."

The Clinton administration created NIPC in 1998 to serve as an interagency focus point for coordinating analysis of, warnings about and response to threats against the nation's infrastructure.

NIPC has weathered much criticism since its creation, including mistrust from industry because of its placement at the FBI and concerns that it was not truly an interagency organization.

But the General Accounting Office, industry groups and other federal agencies have pointed to improvements at the center in recent years such as better information sharing with the private sector. And "those improvements will be in vain if you implement a plan that dismantles NIPC," Grassley wrote.

Moving NIPC's functions primarily into the criminal division, which investigates criminal acts "will only increase the problems NIPC had in the past with quickly analyzing threat information and issuing timely and accurate warnings," he wrote.

"Second, your plan would destroy the fragile trust between NIPC and the private sector [which] would in turn curtail, if not end, the flow of information from the private sector to the FBI, leaving the bureau essentially blind about threats to critical infrastructure."

Richard Clarke, President Bush's cyberspace security adviser, recently formed a new information coordination center to lead the government's response to cyberattacks. NIPC's analysis and warnings section is one of three key organizations brought into that center.

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