Bush seeks 'big picture'
- By William Matthews
- Jun 10, 2002
If it works as envisioned, the Homeland Security Department will be the center of a torrent of intelligence data.
At least eight major agencies and numerous smaller ones will funnel information to the Homeland Security Department, which will serve as a "central clearinghouse to collect and analyze" data related to terrorism, according to the Bush administration.
Documents released by the White House say that the Homeland Security Department will be responsible for developing a "big-picture view" of the terrorist threats that so far has been conspicuously missing.
Today, "multiple intelligence agencies analyze their individual data, but no single government entity exists to conduct a comprehensive analysis of all incoming intelligence information and other key data regarding terrorism in the United States," the White House documents say.
That will be the job of the Homeland Security Department.
Intercepted phone conversations, surveillance reports, financial records, travel data and much more will inundate the new counterterrorism agency. Information will pour in from the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
To keep from drowning in this deluge of data, the new agency will have to rely heavily on automating analysis, technology experts say.
But with the right analytic architecture, the vast volume of data can yield dramatic returns, said Allen Shay, president of Teradata, a data warehousing division of NCR Corp.
Data mining and analysis will enable the department to compare the contents of vastly diverse databases. Comparing student visa information, travel data, financial transactions, terrorist watch lists and other data, for example, could provide new insight into terrorist movements and activities, Shay said.
The government has never before had an organization able to collect and analyze so much information from so many agencies. With sophisticated analytical systems, intelligence analysts should be able to develop predictive analysis, Shay said.
It is not a great technological challenge, said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "There's plenty of technology out there."
Much of the groundwork has already been done, according to Bill Connor, president and chief executive officer of the security software company Entrust Inc. The federal government already possesses "some of the best capabilities in the world, they have just not been integrated to make a quilt instead of a patchwork," he said.
Among the "best-in-class capabilities" are systems used to track money laundering and drug trafficking, Connor said. Such systems are likely to prove useful to the department.
After months of resisting calls to elevate the Office of Homeland Security to a federal agency, President Bush reversed his position June 6 and urged Congress to accept his plan for a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department.
The new agency would be created from parts of existing agencies, absorbing the Coast Guard from the Commerce Department, INS from the Justice Department, the Customs Service from the Treasury Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and smaller divisions from a number of agencies.
It would inherit 169,000 federal workers and a budget of $37.5 billion.
Bush said it would be the biggest government reorganization since 1947, when the Defense Department was created.
But simply moving various parts of different agencies into the Homeland Security Department may do little to improve the nation's ability to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks, said French Caldwell, a vice president at market research firm Gartner Inc.
"My question was, 'What does this agency do to actually improve security?' Security could be improved by improving collaboration on intelligence," Caldwell said. "I don't see what [an] agency does to improve collaboration."
Another potential problem is that the Homeland Security Department will depend on other agencies for the intelligence it will analyze. "Most of the resources are going to be outside the department's control," Caldwell said.
And the CIA, the FBI and other agencies will undoubtedly continue to do their own intelligence analyses, so Caldwell questions what will happen when their analyses conflicts with those done by the Homeland Security Department.
"If that's not resolved, this is just another agency giving advice to the White House," Caldwell said.
Bush unveiled his plan as congressional investigations into intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were getting under way.
Better intelligence sharing is a key element of the president's plan for a Homeland Security Department. "Information must be fully shared so we can follow every lead to find the one that may prevent tragedy," Bush said in a televised address.
But information sharing has been a technical and cultural problem for government agencies. Agencies such as the FBI and INS have been unable to share data because of incompatible databases. For the FBI and the CIA, their information sharing difficulties have often been attributed to competing cultures of secrecy and jurisdiction protection.
A senior administration official said the technical problems that impede information sharing could be overcome by developing an enterprise architecture for the new department.
"One of the advantages of having one department is that the question of whether or not INS, Customs, Coast Guard and [the Transportation Security Administration] have one or more different platforms, computers, software, is resolved by the secretary," the official said.
And some of the cultural problems may be eliminated by putting the federal entities that fight terrorism into a single department, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said.
The Homeland Security Department would reorganize the government "along more rational, strategic lines," said Davis, who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.
Mindful that the president was once against big government but now appears to be expanding its size, White House officials stressed that the new agency would, in fact, "reduce redundant information technology spending."
Within its $37.5 billion budget, the Homeland Security Department would fund development of new technologies, "both evolutionary improvements" to current technology and "revolutionary new capabilities," administration officials said.
Among them would be new means for detecting the movement of nuclear materials and "a national system for detecting the use of biological agents within the United States."
Diane Frank and Judi Hasson contributed to this article.