Threat center raises questions, concerns

White House fact sheet on Terrorist Threat Integration Center

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The role of the Bush administration's Terrorist Threat Integration Center should be clearly defined to avoid duplication and ensure accountability, lawmakers say.

The center would merge the analysis capabilities of the CIA, FBI and the State, Justice and Defense departments into one facility to increase information sharing. At a Feb. 26 hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) questioned whether all of the agencies had clearly delineated functions.

"I'd like to see an executive order or a decision by the agencies involved placing the responsibility exactly where you say it is," Levin told the panel of FBI, CIA and of Homeland Security Department officials. "We cannot blur it. We cannot duplicate it." Without clear responsibilities, agencies will be able to "duck accountability," he said.

The threat integration center will report to the CIA director. However, the FBI and CIA components will continue to report to their respective authorities. The FBI will continue to head the collection of domestic intelligence while the CIA's Counterterrorism Center will head foreign intelligence collection. The center will not have operational or data collection capabilities.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Counterterrorist Center seemed very similar. The Counterterrorist Center was created in the mid-1980s and is part of the CIA. It collects and analyzes terrorism information.

Collins said she is concerned that the two centers would duplicate each other. Collins and other members said they didn't want to create another layer of intelligence analysts, further complicating the center's purpose.

All intelligence data would come into the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Gordon England said. "This is not a new agency. This is a center so we can collaborate and analyze data jointly."

Another concern was why the center would be placed under the supervision of the CIA director rather than Homeland Security officials. Collins said she wondered how they can ensure that the Homeland Security Department would have a major role while preventing the center from becoming a "creature of the CIA."

Winston Wiley, the CIA's associate director of central intelligence for homeland security, said the center would integrate those people already engaged in intelligence analysis and assessment, making the center more effective. To get the center up and running quickly, it made sense to temporarily locate it at the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va., and under the direction of CIA officials, he said. Asking the Homeland Security Department to take on the center would be overwhelming at this time.

"I would not recommend that," England said. "I think it would be very difficult for [the department] to take on [this] task…. Who it reports to is not very important, frankly. This is a partnership. We do have direct access to the information."

Numerous concerns have emerged since President Bush announced the Terrorist Threat Integration Center during the State of the Union address last month. The administration hopes to have the center operational by May 1. As proposed, it will eventually serve as the hub for all terrorist threat-related analysis.

Officials acknowledged that more planning is necessary.

"It is a work in progress. In fact, if we do it right, it will always be a work in progress," Wiley said. "We will be making adjustments as we go along based on what we see works."

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