Learning to Share

In the emotionally numbing wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, much of the fallout from this horrific tragedy fell on one principal question: "Where was our intelligence community (IC)?" followed by, "Why were they asleep at the wheel?"
Those questions were central to the 9/11 Commission, congressional hearings and studies by scores of non-governmental organizations and think tanks — all of whose recommendations for fixing the problems led to Congress’historic overhaul of the IC. But for the many people who had repeatedly warned of intelligence deficiencies over the years, they were no epiphany. After 9/11, everyone was finally listening.
One of the principal reforms rested on making sure that all the IC agencies, departments and services and federal law enforcement community worked together in a cohesive manner to ensure that terrorism intelligence, analyses and other pertinent information was broadly shared with every conceivable person who should have it.
It was the lack of this interconnectivity — bureaucracy’s inherent tendency to stovepipe information and the consequent cultural impediments to sharing information — that effectively blocked the "dots" of the 9/11 plot from materializing as a complete picture on some analyst’s computer.
The majority of sources inside and outside the government, on and off the record with whom HSToday talked have no doubt there has been a revolutionary cultural mind shift in intelligence sharing, but they still have considerable concerns about the mechanisms for effective and timely delivery of intelligence and whether it gets to the right places at the right time — including down to the state and local levels.
James Carafano, senior fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at the Allison Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, told HSToday: "I definitely think it’s a work in progress. … The real question is, are people really working on the priority, high payoff sharing of information that is really going to significantly contribute to making sure that counterterrorism operations and protection efforts are more effective?"
"Information sharing [within the IC] at the departmental level — critical information sharing — I think is going very well," Carafano concluded.
RELIDO reform
In an effort to improve the sharing of intelligence information, John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, last year authorized the use of a new method for the sharing of classified intelligence within the IC. It’s called "RELIDO," or "Releasable by Information Disclosure Official."
RELIDO is intended "to facilitate information sharing through streamlined, rapid-release decisions by authorized disclosure officials," Negroponte wrote in a June 2005 memo.
Essentially, the RELIDO marking permits authorized officials to release documents (on a need-to-know basis) without first having to consult with the originators of the documents. Previously, the originating office of any given intelligence document or specific piece of intelligence in a report, document or briefing had to authorize its specific disclosure to parties not cleared to receive it.
"This is a step forward since originator controls on the dissemination of intelligence are one of the major bottlenecks that impede intelligence information sharing," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’Project on Government Secrecy.
Carafano agreed, noting that under pre-9/11 IC rules for the dissemination of intelligence, "the kind of post-9/11 intelligence sharing that is required to connect the dots wouldn’t be allowed. I think this marks an important step in how intelligence information is treated and shared with everyone who could possibly benefit from its use."
Several senior counterterrorism (CT) intelligence officials who HSToday regularly consults on background due to the sensitivity of their positions said the ability to, "in effect," de-classify intelligence to a level at which it can shared widely on a need-to-know basis — without going through what sometimes was a cumbersome bureaucratic process of getting the controlling originator to quickly approve sharing — has "tremendously improved the process of how information now flows."
However, these and other sources pointed out that the ultimate decision on using RELIDO still rests with the people with the authority to use it — and these people may still hoard information or stovepipe it within their individual organizations.
"We still have pockets of resistance and leftover turf protection inertia from the old ways of dealing with intelligence," one of the CT officials said. "But it’s improving day by day. I think we all now understand that we’ve all got to pull together."
"9/11 taught us that we cannot afford to act as independent ‘ stovepiped’agencies," Ambassador Henry Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told the House Armed Services Committee.
The state of the states
When it comes to the state of intelligence sharing, "People are still talking about this. It’s still an important issue that people are trying to make work," Gerald Epstein, a former White House intelligence official and senior homeland security fellowat the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, told HSToday. "Also, though, by still talking about it, I think nobody would be satisfied with the state at which we’re at, even though a lot of effort has been put into it. It’s a very hard problem. I think it’s a much harder problem than most people imagine."
There are numerous reasons for the difficulties, in Epstein’s view, although they’re not caused by agencies hoarding their intelligence — everyone wants to protect the country. "One issue is in just working out the actual details — one has to remember why it is that information hasn’t always been shared," he pointed out. "Another important aspect which maybe underappreciated is that information has to actually be of some use to people. … People have to get information they can use if they are going to part of the system in which they’re giving information."
As a result, "part of what we need to do is to make sure that if, for example, at the federal level we’re saying, ‘ You know, we really want the state and locals to tell us what is going on because they’re on the ground and they’ve got much better visibility,'[then] that can’t just be a one-way vacuum. People at all levels have to get a return that makes it worth the while to engage in the system."
Indeed, veteran government intelligence officer Robert Steele told HSToday that "the [intelligence reform] legislation [did] not address the urgent need for changes in how we manage strategic and interagency information sharing … [Where] the legislation is especially deficient is failing to recognize that 50 percent of the ‘ dots’that prevent the next 9/11 will come from bottom-up, county-level observation, and that 90 percent of the information that we need to be effective in the transition to and from war is owned by [non-government organizations] and other private-sector parties that will never in a million years agree to share with CIA or DoD."
According to one state official, federal intelligence sharing with state and local homeland security offices and law enforcement officials isn’t faring as well as it seems to be within the IC, and "hopefully isn’t being replicated within the IC." Problems remain with what’s making its way down the food chain.
A new issue brief from the Center for Best Practices of the National Governors Association (NGA), the "2006 State Homeland Security Directors Survey" (http://www.nga.org/Files/ pdf/0604HLSDIRSURVEY.pdf) released on April 5 examined the challenges facing state homeland security directors.
According to the study, 55 percent of the state directors were dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the actionable quality of the intelligence they received from the federal government. These numbers represented a sharp increase from the previous year’s results.
The primary conduit for delivery of federal intelligence information to the states is through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As NCTC’s Redd explained: "We do not, as a rule, deal directly with state, local and tribal authorities. We are charged to support the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, who do have that remit."
Thus, DHS relies heavily on NCTC, although under Charles Allen, chief intelligence officer for DHS’Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS also is performing a degree of its own analyses of intelligence provided by NCTC. What DHS passes on, though, sources tell HSToday, frequently is only as good as what it receives.
DHS provides intelligence through several Web-based media, such as the Joint Regional Information Exchange, which focuses on counterterrorism information shared by local and state law enforcement and the Department of Defense; the Homeland Security Information Network, which connects all of the states and territories in the United States to the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center; and the Regional Information Sharing System,which uses six regional intelligence-sharing centers to coordinate efforts across state lines.
"One state homeland security director offered the lack of ‘ tear-lined’information as one of the primary obstacles, leading to dissatisfaction with federal intelligence at the state level," stated the NGA report.
Tear-lined information provides the meat of intelligence, while omitting the sources and methods used to acquire it. The NGA report noted, though, that "because there is a lack of personnel with security clearances at the state and local levels, cleared state officials are often barred from passing on important but classified information to their peers. Supplying tear-lined information couldhelp to overcome this challenge by increasing the usefulness of information without creating concerns about compromising national security."
According to IC sources working with Allen’s office, this is among the many issues involving state and local intelligence flows that will be addressed in coming months. "He is aware of this and other problems raised by state homeland security directors," one said.
DHS spokespersons said Allen was unable to comment on this or any other intelligence sharing issues.
John Thomasian, director of NGA’s Best Practices Center, told HSToday that while, "on the one hand, we have a greater flow of intelligence, on the other hand, finding a way to make it usable, timely and accessible still continues to be a problem at the state level … the toughest node is the sharing of intelligence from federal sources down to the state, and then trying to make that information actionable and usable for everyone in the field without jeopardizing your intelligence. That’s what the problem is here."
Carafano tended to agree: "The interface between the Department of Homeland Security and the states is still pretty uneven across the country and not really adequate."
More important than that, Carafano said, is the need for "effective" sharing of information.
Conversely, Thomasian noted that "states’intelligence functions — their ability to both gather and disseminate intelligence at the state level down to locals — have vastly improved. These intelligence fusion centers are really helping coordinate intelligence, both gathering and dissemination services within a state."
These fusion centers serve as a central location at which local, state and federal officials work in close proximity to receive, integrate and analyze information and intelligence. According to the NGA survey, "half of states report their efforts to bring their intelligence fusion system into compliance with the recently released US Department of Justice’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative are still ‘ in progress.’An additional 20 percent have already implemented the Justice Department’s recommendations aimed at providing guidelines for intelligence fusion centers."
Within the IC and at DHS, the offices and infrastructure for effective information sharing has been put in place, staffed and equipped. The operators have their navigational bearings and now they’re getting their sea legs.
As the ship of state and its crew enter calmer waters, it’s likely there will be many more adjustments to the course, possibly even more directional orders from Congress. Few, however, doubt that the Unites States is better off today in how it collects, analyzes and shares information.
As one veteran terrorist hunter said, "We’re more likely to make sense of all those dots out there now than we were nearly five years ago."
The National Counterterrorism Center
The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is supposed to be the central repository and assimilation choke point for all terrorism and related intelligence and its analyses. Its director is Retired Vice Admiral John Scott Redd, who previously served as executive director for the Commissionon the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which largely provided the blueprint for implementation of IC reform.
Redd described the functioning of the NCTC in detail for the first time at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 4 called, "Improving Interagency Coordination In the Global War on Terrorism and Beyond."
"In addition to integrating all counterterrorism analysis performed by the Intelligence Community, NCTC was assigned the primary role for actually performing CT analysis. That assignment derives logically from the law’s mandate that NCTC be the one place where all sources of counterterrorism intelligence, both foreign and domestic, from across the IC and CT communities, come together," Redd told lawmakers.
"Indeed, our analysts have access to an unprecedented number of classified networks, databases and intelligence sources. This rich information base provides them with a unique ability to scrutinize the terror threat and ‘ connect the dots’in a comprehensive fashion never before possible in the US government. This, in turn, results in a product set ranging from strategic CT analysis for the president to tactical threat reports that assist the war fighter and first responders at the state and local levels.
"The second aspect of our intelligence operation is information sharing," Redd said, emphasizing "that NCTC is the US government’s model for information sharing. Beginning with the current threat, NCTC runs a 24/7 high-tech operations center. Three times a day, we chair a secure video-teleconference with the key players in the Intelligence Community, ensuring all have the latest threat information. This is augmented by near-continuous cross-talk among watch standers throughout the IC."
Redd explained that NCTC serves the CT community "by compiling the government’s central data base on known or suspected international terrorists. Designated the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, this database contains all-source highly classified information provided by members of the Intelligence Community, such as CIA, DIA, FBI, NSA and many others. Today, there are more than 300,000 records in TIDE. When aliases and transliteration issues are taken into account, this represents over 200,000 unique identities. From this classified TIDE database, an unclassified extract is provided to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. That information, in turn, is used in compiling various watch lists, such as the [Transportation Security Administration’s] No-Fly list, State Department’s Visa and Passport Database, Homeland Security’s Boarder System and FBI’s National Crime and Information Center for state and local law enforcement. This represents a major step forward from the pre-9/11 status of multiple, disconnected and incomplete watch lists throughout the government.
"The final example of information sharing involves what is arguably the most effective classified website in the world — what we call NCTC Online, or NOL. Essentially, we collect intelligence information and analysis from 28 different government networks which come into NCTC and post it on a single website, NOL, where it is then accessible by individual agencies. Thus, planners and analysts at headquarters or forward deployed in theaters worldwide can go online and immediately find all disseminated intelligence on a given subject, published by DIA, CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS and the rest of the IC. Today, we provide access to this wealth of information to approximately 5,000 CT appropriately cleared analysts around the world. Currently, NOL contains approximately 5 million intelligence products. Prior to 9/11, such "one stop shopping" for CT intelligence was unavailable to the IC."
Acronyms in this article
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CT Counterterrorism
DHS Department of Homeland Security
DIA Defense Intelligence Agency
DoD Departmentof Defense
FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation
IC Intelligence community
NCTC National Counterterrorism Center
NGA National Governors Association
NSA National Security Agency
RELIDO Releasable by Information Disclosure Official
TIDE Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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