9/11 report urges info sharing, biometrics

The 9/11 Commission Report

A long-awaited report from the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks calls for better information sharing among government agencies, adoption of biometric technologies and the completion of a visitor tracking system as soon as possible.

The 10-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission, today released its 585-page final report that probed the federal government's failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Commission members did not lay specific blame on anyone, but they did say there were several unexploited opportunities.

"Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies did not manage or share information or effectively follow leads to keep pace with a very nimble enemy," said Thomas Kean, the commission's chair, during a press conference today. "Our border, immigration and aviation security agencies were not integrated into the counter-terrorism effort."

The report suggested that more attention should be paid to enterprise systems. "In interviews around the government, official after official urged us to call attention to frustrations with the unglamorous 'back office' side of government operations," the report said.

Commission members issued a number of recommendations to improve information sharing, intelligence collection and analysis, use of biometric passports, and better border and airport screening of passengers.

For example, the commission said information should be shared horizontally, transforming a system from an "old mainframe, hub-and-spoke concept," where there are standalone databases, to a decentralized network model, where databases are searchable across agency lines.

The report called for better technology and training to detect terrorist travel documents and the use of biometric identifiers, or unique physical characteristics, to authenticate such documents. United States officials are taking steps already, such as requiring foreign visitors to have machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports with embedded biometric identifiers. However, commission officials said Americans should not be exempt from carrying biometric passports as well.

The Homeland Security Department should complete a biometric entry/exit screening system, called the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program as soon as possible, according to the report. There should be improved use of no-fly lists to screen airline passengers as discussions for revamping the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II continue. Transportation assets also should be protected.

"The most powerful investments may be for improvements in technologies with applications across the transportation modes, such as scanning technologies designed to screen containers that can be transported by plane, ship, truck or rail," the report said. "Though such technologies are becoming available now, widespread deployment is still years away."

The report also recommended the creation of a new National Intelligence Director, replacing the Director of Central Intelligence, to unify the intelligence community. Among the numerous duties, the new National Intelligence Director would establish information sharing and information technology policies to maximize data sharing and implement security policies to protect information.

Commission officials called for a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), built on the foundation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), the year-old multifederal agency initiative to integrate and analyze terrorist threat-related information collected domestically and internationally from 21 different networks.

The NCTC would be a center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence staffed by employees from various agencies. The report said the intelligence function should build on TTIC and remain distinct as a national intelligence center within NCTC. A new joint operational planning function would be added to that, but it would leave the execution of operations to the individual agencies.

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