In search of a final fix

The president’s announced reformation of the
Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) —itself a post-Sept. 11,
2001, reform of the nation’s counterterror (CT) community—is being met
with equally deafening decibels of applause and raspberries, depending
on which side of the theater you’re sitting.

Much of the ovation comes from the
intelligence community and, ironically enough, the critics who have
long advocated its reform, the White House and the National Commission
on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) and
those who supported the commission’s work. Most of the jeering emanates
from Capitol Hill—and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where
the TTIC and domestic counterterror functions were supposed to have
been housed in the first place.

And now comes yet another reform/
restructuring of the CT community—at a time when the TTIC, not to
mention the entire intelligence community—still has a lot of rough
spots to smooth out. The TTIC isn’t yet a fully functioning
counterterror agency—at least as congressionally envisioned. The
Homeland Security Act of 2002 required that DHS receive unfettered
access to all raw and finished terror intelligence. The TTIC, by
contrast, was arbitrarily built largely by the Central Intelligence
Agency, housed under the auspices of the CIA and made answerable to the
Director of Central Intelligence (DCI)—all without congressional
approval and without a legislatively approved TTIC charter.

Lawmakers’ displeasure with the creation of
the TTIC outside their legislative purview and its confusing chains of
command, responsibilities and conflicts with the intent of the enacting
legislation was evident during a joint hearing on July 22, 2003, before
the House Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Homeland
Security. The TTIC was hardly three months old at the time.

The chorus of discontent on Capitol Hill
still resounds, especially now that Bush has called for the
metamorphosis of the TTIC into a new national counterterror center, at
a time when the existing structure has yet to get its sea legs.

“This is a damn mess,” one senior member of the Senate—and a Republican to boot—candidly told HSToday.

TTIC woes

Despite assurances from CIA, FBI and even DHS
officials that the TTIC fulfilled, and will fulfill, Congress’ intent,
lawmakers have remained skeptical as the center has struggled to do
just that. The principal objection is that DHS is not receiving all the
terror intelligence it’s legislatively mandated to get. Further, all
the counterterror intelligence streams continue to run through the
intelligence community’s respective cultural stovepipes and analytical
processes on their way to the analysts and decision-makers at TTIC.
Whatever remains after all this filtering is then handed off to DHS and
its analysts and decisionmakers to pass on to state, local and private
consumers.

Retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, assistant
secretary for information analysis of DHS’s Information Analysis and
Infrastructure Protection Directorate (IAIP) and a former director of
the Defense Intelligence Agency, agrees in part. He told Congress in
August that “the most significant impediments to information sharing
are not technological, they’re legal and cultural.”

Nevertheless, Hughes said the IAIP, the DHS
department that receives TTIC intelligence, “is responsible for
translating the analysis done at the TTIC into actionable data for
state, territorial, tribal, local and private sector officials
responsible for homeland security.”

This isn’t exactly what lawmakers had in
mind. They’d intended DHS to be the focal point for collecting,
analyzing and disseminating terror information. For example, DHS was
out of the loop when it came to crunching the intelligence that led to
the orange terror alert in Washington, DC, New York and New Jersey in
August. The CIA’s clandestine service, the Counterterrorism Center and
Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the FBI, National Security Agency,
Defense Intelligence Agency and senior military officers who help the
CIA execute and coordinate foreign covert CT operations were huddled
together—but DHS’s representation was nil. Why? Because contrary to
congressional mandate, it has not been empowered to do what this cadre
of admittedly skilled and dedicated intelligence personnel were doing
while secreted away.

Summing up many of his colleagues’
sentiments, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), a member of the House Homeland
Security Committee, said a year ago that if the TTIC is “not brought
back under the Department of Homeland Security, Congress should respond
by establishing standards for sharing of information and its
consequences and should establish internal oversight mechanisms for
TTIC.”

Unwelcome suggestion

While the process by which TTIC was created
arguably didn’t comport with what Congress intended, lawmakers were
sufficiently assuaged by IC leaders’ assurances that they were willing
to give the center’s unquestionably dedicated and hardworking employees
the benefit of the doubt.

Given this degree of cautious satisfaction in
these intelligence agencies, the near-sacred decree of the 9/11
Commission to establish yet another counterterror consortium was not
welcome—to put it mildly.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) expressed the
thinking of commission members when he said the Bush administration
unwisely placed the TTIC under the DCI.

“The administration has … created a weak
intelligence-analysis unit inside the [DHS] and a brand-new
threat-integration center under the command of the director of central
intelligence. I fear it will not do what is necessary to prevent
further terrorism from occurring.”

The commission concurred, and on Aug. 2
President Bush dutifully announced the creation of a new National
Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) that will coordinate and monitor the CT
plans and activities of all government agencies and departments to
ensure effective joint action, and that US CT efforts are unified in
priority and purpose.

The center will prepare the daily terrorism
threat report for the president and senior officials. The director of
the new center will report to a new Director of National Intelligence,
a radical upset of the IC, which faces stiff opposition from
intelligence authorities and elements of Congress. Until then, the
director of the NCTC will report to the DCI.

Although it’s unclear how the NCTC will
fulfill the law requiring that CT intelligence responsibilities reside
with DHS, or just how, exactly, the NCTC will interface with DHS,
senior IC and federal law-enforcement officials testified Aug. 3 that
creation of the NCTC is a good thing, even though the TTIC itself has
yet to become a fully functioning agency.

Unfinished construction

It’s the administration’s intent, basically,
to builda second story on top of the framework of the TTIC, which
itself is still under construction, although changing the blueprints in
mid-construction represents a significant risk at a time when it’s
become clear Al Qaeda is actively working to carry out new and
undoubtedly spectacular attacks on American soil. This unexpected new
set of architectural orders to the builders has some IC officials
worried that gaps in intelligence collection could open unforeseen
vulnerabilities, missed information sharing and tactical coordination,
and analytical confusion.

DHS’s Hughes admitted in August that the IC,
TTIC and DHS continue to have issues “formaliz[ing] a process which
will improve information sharing and collaboration.” Still, this
respected intelligence veteran believes “the creation of the…NCTC will
enhance DHS’ ability to better identify threats and map those threats
against vulnerabilities.”

Critics of the way the TTIC was created in
quasi-violation of Congress’ mandate hope that its new countenance will
be much more than a pretty face; that it also will have the intellect
necessary to do battle with the evil that it has been directed to find
and destroy. HST

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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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