Bush lays plan for info-sharing center

The Bush administration this spring expects to set up a central facility for analyzing terrorism-related data collected by different agencies, although officials in Congress and the private sector have raised questions about the plan's details.

The Terrorist Threat Integration Center would incorporate staff and systems from the Defense and Homeland Security departments, the FBI and the CIA.

The center is expected to help solve the problems with cross-agency information sharing that some critics say contributed to intelligence failures leading to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We're going to use the best information technologies to make sure information flows from this data bank of information to law enforcement officials," President Bush said Feb. 14 in a speech at FBI headquarters.

The center is expected to begin work May 1 at an interim location at CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia. Approximately 60 government employees will staff the center initially, and eventually 150 to 300 will work at a new facility separate from CIA and FBI headquarters, White House officials said.

The center, which Bush announced last month in his State of the Union address, will conduct threat analysis and assessment and maintain an up-to-date database of known and suspected terrorists, according to a White House announcement.

Furthermore, the center will "minimize any seams between analysis of terrorism and intelligence collected overseas and inside the United States," White House officials said. The center will have no independent authority in intelligence collection.

"The goal is to develop a comprehensive picture of terrorist activities," Bush said.

The idea of an 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, former Republican senator and co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, testifying Feb. 14 before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The idea of merging the analysis capabilities of all participating agencies is admirable, Rudman said. However, the proposal's details are crucial 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 seems to lack the details of how the new center will come together, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee's chairwoman, said she plans to call another hearing to give administration officials an opportunity to explain the proposal.

All current privacy protections for information handling will apply to the center, and the participants will be accountable by internal and congressional oversight, officials said.

But those details are the source of one of the biggest questions about the center: Where it will be located. Some officials worry that the current plan of putting the director of central intelligence in charge (see box) could 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 [CIA director], 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 must be worked out as officials come together to create the center, said Jeffrey Smith, the CIA's former general counsel. But someone has to be in charge and accountable, and the intelligence analysis expertise currently is clearly within the existing community, not the new department, he said.

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Working to share data

Although all details of the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center have yet to be determined, the Bush administration does have some basic facts. A top government official, appointed by CIA Director George Tenet, will head the center and report to Tenet, but the FBI and CIA components will continue to report to their respective organizations.

Bringing the FBI and CIA under one roof will enhance information sharing and maximize counterterrorism resources, a White House official said. The Homeland Security Department also will be a full partner in the center and receive and analyze terrorist information. "Our agencies must coexist as they never have before," President Bush said.

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