Bush releases national strategy for sharing intelligence

The Bush administration has released the first comprehensive national strategy for how federal, state, local and tribal officials; foreign governments; and the private sector should share terrorism-related intelligence.

The National Strategy for Information Sharing, released Oct. 31, chronicles the administration’s efforts since the 2001 terrorist attacks and outlines a national policy for sharing terrorism-related information.

The strategy was welcomed by some lawmakers who a little more than a month ago joined the Government Accountability Office in criticizing President Bush for failing to create a long-term plan for the fusion centers through which state, local and federal agencies share threat data.

“This is a good product,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) in a statement. “It includes many things that some members of Congress -– including Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and me –- have been saying for years.”

During a subcommittee hearing Sept. 27, Harman said that although the fusion center concept was sound, the strategy needed work. She is chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee.

Furthermore, the federal government needed to “determine and articulate its long-term fusion center role and whether it expects to provide resources to centers to help ensure their sustainability,” said Eileen Larence, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, in written testimony during the hearing.

The new strategy presents a vision for the 58 fusion centers that have been -- or are in the process of being -- established nationwide. It calls for fusion centers to achieve a baseline of capability and pursue the goal of establishing a “national, integrated network of fusion centers to enable the effective sharing of terrorism-related information.” The strategy also promises to support the centers through grant funding and training.

Additionally, the document lists core privacy principles that administration officials say require agencies to comply with privacy laws and be proactive in balancing privacy and security concerns.

However, Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that although the strategy is a positive step toward transparency, the privacy principles are too vague, and as a policy statement, it lacks outside oversight and enforceability. Furthermore, without a statutory definition, privacy principles mean little, she added.

“What this administration defines as protecting the rights of Americans is real fuzzy at this point,” she said. “One person’s terrorism may be another person’s free speech.”

The strategy encourages each state to define and document how it will share information within its borders. State, local and tribal authorities are also required to collaborate with the federal government to establish and disseminate baseline operational standards for the centers.

The federal government will adjust funding levels to ensure that the centers continue to comply with baseline operating standards even after they reach them. Under the guidelines, federal and state or local authorities will also establish processes and standards for reporting incidents, issuing alerts and warnings, and improving situational awareness.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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