At least join the game

Even if President Bush says agencies should play together and share, it doesn't mean it will happen — at least not immediately.

In his January State of the Union address, President Bush announced he was establishing the Terrorist Threat Integration Center to "merge and analyze all threat information." He said the CIA, the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and the Defense Department would develop the center together.

But so far, the center, which opened last week, has been more of a CIA-led venture, not a cooperative effort. The CIA named John Brennan as director and asked the FBI weeks ago to name a deputy director. The center has positions for three deputy directors — for analysis, management and liaison — all appointed from the other three agencies.

But the FBI, while acknowledging the importance of information sharing, has declined to appoint a deputy director, citing problems with information sharing. A DOD spokesman, asked to comment about DOD's involvement with the center, referred all questions to the CIA. Where's the cooperation?

No one — except maybe some top-level government managers who are more interested in supporting the Bush administration's message than they are in succeeding in the war against terrorism — said that convincing agencies to share and end decades of turf battles would be easy. And a thoughtful approach to what information the CIA, the FBI, DOD and DHS should, and can, legally share is a wise approach that will allow time to resolve the legal and political issues of sharing information.

But the FBI's position to not play at all doesn't even give government a chance to discuss the thorny, yet significant, problems that must be solved before Americans can have confidence that the government is acting to counter terrorism.

Agreeing to communicate is not capitulation. It is, however, essential to moving forward and acting responsibly. The FBI, and other agencies, should take the first step just to agree to talk by appointing a deputy. Then the messy business of negotiating what information to share can take place.

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