TTIC chief sees complexities

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee

Although a national information technology blueprint for sharing data among federal agencies fighting terrorism is needed, the head of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) said the issue is much more complex.

"This Congress has funded individual initiatives in individual agencies," said John Brennan, TTIC's director, who was among four federal officials testifying today before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which is holding a series of hearings on the 9-11 Commission's recommendations. "And so what we find right now are disparate systems and we're trying to bring it together."

Today's hearing focused on the creation of a national counterterrorism center that would build on TTIC, which is a multiagency entity with direct access to 26 federal networks. TTIC was established 15 months ago to help analysts gain a wide view of intelligence collected across various intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies here and abroad.

Several lawmakers and others have said the new center would be, in effect, a "super TTIC." On Aug. 2, President Bush said he would establish such a center, and Brennan, who also endorsed the idea, was responding to questions from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about the entity's IT needs.

Durbin, who has touted the need for better IT in anti-terrorist efforts, said that when he raised the issue of an IT architecture during the creation of the Homeland Security Department, Office of Management and Budget officials told him to back off. He said we're back at the same place.

"What has stopped us?" Durbin asked Brennan. "What has stopped the executive branch? Is it the Congress? Have we held the executive branch back from establishing this new architecture so these computers can merge their information and make us a safer nation?"

Brennan said the officials building the architecture must take into account top secret, secret, classified, and unclassified security levels; consider access to agencies and departments; and ensure information sharing from overseas officials to state and local law enforcement.

"You're talking about a very, very intricate and interdependent system that is not yet in place," he said. "It needs to be. The U.S. government needs to understand how we can make sure information moves. But the bumper sticker comments about [how] we're not sharing information doesn't take into account the complexity of the issue."

Brennan added that the commission's recommendation to provide incentives for information sharing "doesn't address any of the issues regarding the technology challenges and the tremendous resources required, the policies and protocols and procedures that have to be put into place."

Durbin said unless a bipartisan commitment to get it done is established, the frustration will continue.

"Organization charts are important, but the bottom line is who's working for the agency?" he asked. "What tools do they have to make America safer? And the most important tool, as I see it from a technology viewpoint, is still something off into the future. That to me is troubling."

The Senate and House are holding several hearings on the commission's recommendations this month, when Capitol Hill is normally quite. The commission — formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — also recommended the creation of a new national intelligence director to oversee the entire U.S. intelligence community. Bush has endorsed that idea, but critics charge his plan does not give the director budget authority and hiring and firing power, which is needed. The Senate plans to introduce structuring legislation this fall.

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