FBI misses terror info

Counterterrorism tips from state and local law enforcement organizations are not always reaching FBI agents, according to a recently released report.

Although the bureau has instituted an incident tracking system called Guardian to find potential connections between local police reports and FBI counterterrorism efforts, the federal database is not always synchronized with state counterterrorism databases, concludes a National Academy of Public Administration panel review of FBI transformation.

"Data points may be missed, undermining intelligence efforts and policing," states the report, which was released to the public March 8. Some states do not have tracking systems -- and sometimes when they do, local police may not report incidents if they are resolved in the field, the report adds.

Moreover, state and local officials are receiving terrorism threat assessments from both the FBI and the Homeland Security Department. The resulting confusion on the ground "seems to reflect confusion among federal agencies about the scope of their responsibilities," the report states. Threat assessments produced by the intelligence community, of which the FBI is a member, result from a severely outdated process despite an update that occurred a year ago, the report adds.

However, because DHS lacks capacity to develop threat assessments, the bureau should continue to formulate domestic threat assessments, the report states.

Counterterrorism data sharing between state, local and federal levels has improved, the report states, but information is often shared on an ad hoc basis. "Local e-mail and rolodexes seem to be proliferating in the absence of explicit headquarters guidance,” it says. Without formal guidance for sharing information between the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, DHS and the broader intelligence community, "sharing could erode once the current emphasis on terrorism abates," it states.

In addition, the report's authors say there should be a single real time watch list of terrorist suspects used by all federal agencies and the private sector, particularly airlines.

The report also calls for expanding the FBI’s developing enterprise architecture to ensure state and local connectivity.

Problems with the FBI's transformation efforts have slowed the bureau's pace of modernization, the report states. The long delay and recent collapse of Virtual Case File, the bureau’s long-awaited electronic case file sharing system, has led some field offices to place some initiatives on hold, it states.

Key technology budget planning at the bureau should be changed to a multi-year resource planning system, according to the report.

In the field of security, report authors recommend system users become directly involved in the accreditation process. Currently, the bureau’s director of security certifies whether an information technology system is secure, and the chief information officer accredits the system. “The current process does not recognize the responsibility of risk that should be borne by the user or owner,” the report states.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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