Threat center draws praise, questions

White House fact sheet on Terrorist Threat Integration Center

President Bush's proposed Terrorist Threat Integration Center drew praise from all sides at a Senate hearing today, but officials still want many questions answered.

The idea of a single intelligence fusion center is not new, and is in fact already in place in a limited fashion within the intelligence community. But a single analysis center for all homeland security intelligence needs is much more complex, said Warren Rudman, co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, testifying before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Bush administration's proposal to merge the analysis capabilities of the CIA, the FBI, and the State, Justice and Defense departments is an admirable goal, Rudman said. However, he added that the details of the proposal—first outlined in the president's State of the Union address last month—are key to determining whether the center will be effective and, he said, "I don't think any of us have enough details right now."

Even the administration does not seem to have the details of how the new center will come together, and committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she plans to call another hearing just to hear administration officials talk about the proposal.

Putting the center together informally—without asking or waiting for legislation—allows the Bush administration some room for trial and error in the structure and technology to see what works before sticking to a single solution, Rudman said.

"There are more questions right now than there are answers," he said.

One of the biggest questions concerns the placement of the new center. The White House plan puts the director for central intelligence in charge. However, some officials are worried that such a placement would possibly create confusion and separate the center from the governmentwide intelligence analysis function just established by law at the Homeland Security Department.

"By placing the [center] under the direction of the [director for central intelligence], rather than the secretary of Homeland Security, and disconnecting it from those with direct responsibility for safeguarding homeland security, the administration's proposal falls far short of what is necessary to develop an effective, integrated approach," said James Steinberg, vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

This concern is one of many that will have to be worked out as officials come together to create the center, said Jeffrey Smith, former general counsel for the CIA. But someone has to be in charge and accountable, and right now the intelligence analysis expertise is clearly within the existing community, not the new department, he said.

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