From Small Clues to Big Picture: One Lesson from 9-11 Is the Importance of Better Connecting the Dots of Intelligence Data to See the Picture of Any Looming Threat. the Transportation Security Coordination Center Is Attempting to Do Just That

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Since September 11, 2001, government officials, terrorism experts, and private citizens have emphasized the importance of intelligence gathering and analysis. The goal is to make it possible for government agencies to connect the dots from seemingly random incidents to find the big picture of a possible terrorist event in time to detect and deter any plans for an attack. The Transportation Security Coordination Center (TSCC) was created to take on that mission for the transportation sector.

TSCC Director Curt Powell characterizes the TSCC as a collaborative environment, leveraged with technology, in which employees strive to quickly analyze situations and assess countermeasures to take away the enemy's advantage of surprise. It has been working behind the scenes toward that end since its creation in early 2003. For example, when several flights from London to Washington, D.C., and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were cancelled in late December 2003, U.K. officials said that the decisions were based on specific intelligence from the United States. The coordination and analysis of the data came from the terrorism experts at the TSCC.

Origins. Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the government was charged with developing a group to analyze transportation data and monitor critical infrastructure. Set up under the auspices of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the TSCC was the body that emerged.

The task. The TSCC monitors the 429 commercial airports in the United States as well as thousands of miles of rail transportation and pipelines. Trucking routes are also scrutinized, as are the nation's more than 300 ports. The center gathers information from intelligence agencies, airport screeners, and federal air marshals. It also receives alerts from federal security directors and other leaders in the private sector who are responsible for transportation infrastructure, such as shipping company owners, port security personnel, and oil and gas industry professionals.

The job of those who work at the TSCC is to analyze the intelligence compiled from all of these sources and recommend action to mitigate any possible security risk. Testifying before the 9-11 Commission in April, CIA Director George Tenet said it would take five years to build the CIA to the level where it could gather global intelligence as effectively as needed to fight the war on terrorism. Clearly, one hurdle the TSCC faces in meeting its mission is that it can only work with the intelligence provided.

The expertise. TSCC analysts are drawn from all federal agencies--especially the 22 agencies under the DHS. Also represented in the center are the Secret Service, the Department of Defense, the Capital Police, and the U.S. Park Police.

Information from the private sector comes from industry leaders and from information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs) formed by several different industries. For example, the TSCC works with ISACs from the food industry, water utilities, emergency services, state government, information and telecommunications, and the energy, transportation, banking and finance, real estate, and chemical industries. Representatives from each ISAC now work at the TSCC facility. Direct interaction with these industry representatives helps to keep the intelligence chain short and allows a quicker response to new threats.

Having all of the players in one room is an advantage because it facilitates employee collaboration in the search for any emerging patterns in the volumes of data analyzed. If the CIA analyst has a question on presidential protection, for example, he can walk across the room to the Secret Service representative and ask the question without delay.

Issues. The TSCC is focused on the transportation infrastructure. The infrastructure is divided into three core issue areas--air, land, and sea. …