Group proposes intell roles

On the heels of new federal legislation restructuring the intelligence community, a homeland security working group chaired by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has issued a report this week that outlines the roles and responsibilities for all levels of government and the private sector regarding intelligence data for domestic security.

The report, which sketches current problems with federal authorities in intelligence or information sharing, provides broad recommendations that include identifying and assessing targets, packaging data, improving communication pathways between the federal government and others, establishing minimum national standards, developing common terminology, and developing fusion centers, to name a few.

Romney's group proposes a framework where first responders, including law enforcement, public health, public works and other officials collect information on a day-to-day basis. The data is then sent to regional centers and/or states, which are developing fusion centers to collect and analyze data. State officials, who could have the capability to identify trends of emerging terrorist activities, would then send that data to the federal government, which would develop a national picture. Federal authorities would then send the actionable intelligence to state and local authorities.

This week's report marks the first time a group of mayors, governors and subject-matter experts from different disciplines have come together and begun not only the process of defining their roles in homeland security, but also looking at it globally from a state and local perspective, said John Cohen, a member of the working group and a homeland security adviser to Romney.

"Results are coming out at a time when the nation is looking at completely restructuring the way the intelligence community works with other communities to collect, analyze, share and use terrorism-related information to protect our local communities," he said. Federal officials are "acknowledging for the first time that a big part of that restructuring has to take into account what state and locals are going to be doing."

Romney headed a 21-member working group comprised of members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which advises Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Cohen said Romney, who is a council member, briefed the White House last week and will give a presentation to Ridge and other members today.

State and local officials have long complained that federal authorities are better at taking information than distributing it. According to the report, a majority of officials at state and local governments are only somewhat satisfied with the timeliness and detail of intelligence provided by federal sources. There is a lack of clarity within the federal government regarding how officials can effectively provide information to those entities, the report adds. Part of the problem is distributing sensitive classified, proprietary and business information.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, progress has been made with the development of new national strategies and information-sharing plans as well as new systems such as the Homeland Security Information Network and other law enforcement systems to better distribute and receive information.

Cohen said those developments are a good foundation, but they aren't being integrated into the intelligence reform process. He also said many federal initiatives by different agencies or groups were duplicated.

"What we found early on in this project were there were a number of initiatives under way that were looking at the issue in a stovepiped manner," he said. "They were either looking at it and weren't talking to other folks doing similar things or they were only looking at it from the perspective of one discipline."

Cohen said coordinating such an effort might fall under the aegis of the Information Sharing Environment program, proposed in the intelligence reform bill, overwhelmingly enacted by Congress last week and headed for President Bush's signature. The initiative will have a program manager and Information Sharing Council, Cohen said.

"The goal of all of this is to sit there and take a look at the operational responsibilities of different levels of government and the private sector," he said. "What role do they play in protecting, preventing, interdicting, preparing, to respond to acts of terrorism? Once you've mapped out the operational policies, the business flows, then you can identify very clearly what you need to do from an information sharing perspective."

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