Bush touts center to support data sharing, analysis

President Bush in his State of the Union address last night reiterated how much his administration will depend upon technology for homeland defense.

Among his list of domestic proposals, Bush said he is instructing the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and Homeland Security Department to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location.

“Our government must have the very best information possible,” Bush said. “We will use it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect all our citizens.”

During his nearly one-hour speech, technology played a part in two areas: the new terrorism center and the use of sensors as a part of early warning system against bioterrorism. (Click here for a White House synopsis of initiatives)

The center, which will be headed by senior government officials appointed by the CIA director, will oversee a national counterterrorism tasking and requirements system and maintain shared databases with the CIA, FBI, HSD and DOD. It also will maintain an up-to-date database of known and suspected terrorists, which will be accessible to federal and non federal officials.

The White House released a fact sheet on the proposal that said the center would ensure that intelligence information from all sources is shared, integrated and analyzed seamlessly, and then acted upon quickly.

“The integration piece will be critical across all the databases,” said David McClure, vice president for E-Government at the Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington non-partisan organization. “The system must be able to assemble information quickly and intelligently and analyze it and disseminate even more quickly.”

McClure said it will be a challenge to put a system together because so much information will come from so many different sources. He said it will be important for the system to have high-speed connections and software that can examine and distribute it across agencies and levels of government.

Michael Scardaville, a policy analyst for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington conservative think tank, said by creating the mechanism for agencies to share information will improve data transfers.

“We really have been lacking an institutional solution to our information sharing problem,” he said. “This is a step in that direction.”

Scardaville said the technology must take the human element out of sharing.

“If an analyst must physically transfer information, then it will not be as effective,” he said. “Anyone should be able to access the information at any time on their own.”

He also said work being done by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is a possible solution to the data sharing problem.

“The center would be the ideal place to use the technology developed by the Total Information Awareness program,” Scardaville said. “Databases could be linked without having to take all that information out of the database. An analyst could query the data from outside the host network instead of doing traditional data mining.”

At least to some extent, the administration’s proposal for the center follows one of the recommendations of the Gilmore Commission to assess the domestic response capabilities to terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction. The commission suggested a forming a national counterterrorism center separate from the CIA, FBI and HSD. It would be responsible to fuse intelligence information from all foreign and domestic sources, the report said.

McClure said he was somewhat surprised that Bush did not mention some of the recent E-government progress in the government to citizen portfolio, such as the IRS’ free file launch and the GovBenefits Web site.

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