GAO: Better data sharing needed

The Homeland Security Department and state and local governments must improve information sharing on potential terrorist threats, according to a new General Accounting Office report released today.

Although the congressional auditors studied the government's information-sharing operations before DHS was launched in January, GAO still said much work remained to strengthen information sharing to detect and prepare for a potential attack.

"Overall, no level of government perceived the process as effective, particularly when sharing information with federal agencies," the report said. "Information on threats, methods and techniques of terrorists is not routinely shared. And the information that is shared is not perceived as timely, accurate or relevant."

Federal agencies, especially the FBI and the CIA, came under criticism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for failing to share data gathered in the field about potential terrorists. For example, some of the attackers had been on watch lists but were not barred from entering the United States. A memo from one FBI official raised concerns about people of Middle Eastern descent taking flying lessons, but no one followed up on the tip before the terrorists hijacked four passenger jets.

DHS and the Defense Department agreed with the findings of the GAO report. But the Justice Department said the report "reaches sweeping and extraordinarily negative conclusions about the adequacy of the governmental sharing of information in order to prevent acts of terror."

"We believe that these conclusions are fundamentally incorrect and unsupported by reliable evidence," Justice said in the report.

Justice balked at providing information on intelligence sharing to GAO and said it would make the information available only to congressional intelligence committees.

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