DHS signs on to create threat assessment coordination group

Lawmakers are cautiously optimistic that a recent agreement signed by the Homeland Security Department, FBI, the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) will jump-start an Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group (ITACG) that has lagged since the summer.

House Homeland Security Committee officials said DHS delayed signing the agreement for more than two months although the other federal agencies had approved the memo.

A DHS spokesman confirmed Sept. 27 that officials finally signed the agreement and would begin implementing the coordination group, which was a 9/11 Commission recommendation and was also included in the 9/11 Act, passed Aug. 2.

“A primary purpose of the ITACG will be to ensure that classified and unclassified intelligence produced by federal organizations...is fused, validated, deconflicted and approved for dissemination in a concise and, where appropriate, unclassified format,” according to the ISE program manager’s implementation plan.

The group likely will consist of federal, state and local law enforcement and anti-terrorism officials.

According to a Congressional Research Service report on DHS risk assessment methodology, department officials said bringing in state and local officials to ITACG would create unnecessary confusion and that may have been a reason for the delay in signing the agreement.

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and David Reichert (R-Wash.) wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff Sept. 26 — the day the agency signed the letter — asking for an explanation about the delay in signing the agreement to create ITACG.

But now that DHS signed the memo, committee officials say this is a step in the right direction.

“While Mr. Thompson and Ms. Harman are delighted that the department is now apparently doing what it’s supposed to do, they are mindful of the fact that the devil will be in the details,” said a committee spokeswoman. “No turn of phrase or creative interpretation of either the 9/11 Act or the [memorandum of agreement] will be permitted to undermine Congress’ intent: a full partnership of state, local and tribal law enforcement officers and homeland security advisers situated in the NCTC who inform the national intelligence cycle by bringing state, local and tribal perspectives to what intelligence is most helpful to police and sheriffs’ officers on America’s front lines; how to write that intelligence in a way that makes sense to that state and local audience; and to whom in that audience any particular intelligence product should be disseminated.”

In the letter, the lawmakers said it seems DHS views ITACG as a threat to the Office of Intelligence Analysis instead of as an opportunity to share more information.

With the agreement in place, the committee spokeswoman said lawmakers will watch the coordination group’s progress closely.

“Members are planning at least one site visit to the NCTC in the coming weeks to meet with the law enforcement officers who are part of the ITACG and will be seeking a detailed assessment as to its progress,” the spokeswoman said. “Members are likewise considering a series of hearings in the coming months to monitor the ITACG’s development.”

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