CIA, FBI wrangle over threat center

White House fact sheet on Terrorist Threat Integration Center

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The FBI has not appointed a top official to a joint center for terrorism analysis, scheduled to open this week, threatening one of President Bush's top priorities to prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States, according to a top CIA information technology official.

Bobby Brady, deputy chief information officer for the CIA, said last week that the agency had asked the FBI to name a deputy director and lead liaison representing federal law enforcement to the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), which is scheduled to open May 1. The CIA named John Brennan as the center's director.

"We don't agree with the FBI's decision [to not appoint a deputy director] and reject the notion that this should be a CIA-run organization," Brady said at an event of government IT contractors sponsored by Input, a market research firm. "We don't believe it should just be the CIA, because the CIA is just too vulnerable, and there would not be enough involvement from the FBI and other agencies. If we don't get [that involvement], the TTIC won't be as effective as it could be."

Despite Brady's concerns, the FBI is not in the process of appointing a deputy director for the center and may not need to, according to an FBI spokesman. The guidelines for the center require a director and three deputy directors for analysis, management and liaison, all appointed from different agencies.

The CIA and FBI deal with sensitive information, and there might be struggles to determine what information to share. "There are times when we don't want to share sources and methods, and I'm sure the CIA has similar concerns in some cases," FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said. "It's not as simple as getting a room and putting analysts in it. But to the extent we can integrate the intelligence sharing, certainly the better off we are."

In his State of the Union address in January, Bush called on four agencies to work together to establish the center.

"Tonight, I am instructing the leaders of the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security [Department (DHS)] and the Department of Defense to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center, to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location," Bush said. "Our government must have the very best information possible, and we will use it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect our citizens."

A Pentagon spokesperson deferred questions about the center to the CIA.

The friction over the center indicates just how reluctant agencies are — especially law enforcement and intelligence agencies — to share information and cooperate in joint efforts. But it is cooperation and information sharing that will be crucial to the success of preventing future terrorist attacks, IT experts say.

"This is symptomatic of the cultural challenges that we need to face to respond to the new threat," said Paul Brubaker, a partner at ICG Government and former deputy CIO at the Defense Department. "This is the same issue that will pose the biggest challenge to the new Department of Homeland Security as they try to consolidate separate cultures."

Brady acknowledged that the CIA and FBI have resisted sharing information, but he said a primary reason for that is their differing missions. "Our job is to develop intelligence on foreign threats and at the same time protect our data and sources," he said. The "FBI has the task of domestic law enforcement and turning investigations into convictions. There is a reason we don't mix. [If we shared all information,] there would be legal and political ramifications we can't even foresee."

The degree to which agencies cooperate will determine how successful the center will be, said Roger Baker, an executive vice president at CACI International Inc. and former Commerce Department CIO. "The issue will be whether the TTIC gets cooperation from the agencies or just compliance," he said.

Peter Higgins, a consultant and former FBI information services official, said much of the cooperation would depend on who is chosen to work at the center. Although the center should make sharing information easier, its analysts are the key to making it work. If the agencies send "old guard" employees who are used to not sharing and are less willing to change, they will run into more obstacles.

The deeply ingrained differences between the CIA and FBI have long prevented them from working well together.

However, Lee Holcomb, DHS' chief technology officer, is optimistic that the center can overcome the cultural barriers. "Cultures are always there, and you have to live with cultures," he said. "This country needs that capability [of TTIC]. Anything you stand up in a hurry, you're limited in the degree to which you can integrate. Capabilities will come along."

Jim Flyzik, a partner in the IT consulting firm Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik & Associates and former IT adviser at the Office of Homeland Security, said that despite CIA and FBI differences, the spirit of cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence is better now than at any time in his 28-year government career. "Any organizational change of this nature — the way people work, the processes and clearances — is going to produce friction," he said. "But I am optimistic they will end up working well together in the long run."

Brubaker said cooperation among agencies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has improved but cautioned that "this is relative. Conflict between agencies is deeply rooted. Even an event as horrible as [Sept. 11] cannot erase five decades of turf battles." n

Terrorist Threat Integration Center The Bush administration formed the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, set to open May 1, to better analyze and share information among the CIA, FBI and the departments of State, Justice and Defense. The center will analyze threats and maintain a database of known and suspected terrorists. But it will not conduct independent intelligence gathering. The center will "minimize any seams between analysis of terrorism and intelligence collected overseas and inside the United States," according to the White House. About 60 government employees will initially staff the center at a temporary location in the CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia. The administration expects the center's staff to increase to 150 to 300 people, who will report to center Director John Brennan.

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