Magazine article National Defense

Lack of Trust

Magazine article National Defense

Lack of Trust

Article excerpt

Reluctance to share information hampers counterterrorism efforts

As part of an ambitious plan to improve the flow of intelligence among law enforcement agencies, the U.S. government has set up several command centers where federal, state and local officials can share information.

Bur several years into this effort, these socalled "data fusion centers" are not functioning as originally planned, mosdy because federal agencies have been reluctant to share intelligence with state and local officiais.

Problems include clashing cultures between local law enforcement and federal agencies, lack of trust and the absence of a clear national fusion center strategy.

The data fusion centers were created in the aftermath of 9/11 in an attempt to prevent the intelligence failures that led to the attacks.

Although the concept has gained some funding and momentum, information sharing across agencies has not coalesced as planned. Forty-two states have established a fusion centet or announced their intentions to do so, said Thomas Bossert, senior director for preparedness policy at the White House homeland security council. Although there is a significant "coalition of the willing," only about seven of those centers are operational and those few have a lot of work to do. "All operational fusion centers in America would today fail at an exercise," Bossert said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement network-centric conference.

Most of these centers were created in 2004 to 2005 and are still working to acquire the staff and finances needed to sustain them.

One of the biggest challenges to creating successful fusion centers is developing an effective information-sharing environment.

U.S. officials are still "trying to figure out who owns information," said Carter Morris, director of information sharing and knowledge management at the Department of Homeland Security. Right now, intelligence flow between government agencies and law enforcement is subject to delays and gaps, which was demonstrated by the recent British airline threat.

On Aug. 10, 2006, Scotland Yard announced that an attempted terrorist attack on British airliners bound for the United States had been foiled the previous day. Although the White House knew about the plot, few people were told before it became public, Morris said at the conference. White House officials did not want the information released.

Perhaps the White House held out to prevent public panic. Or perhaps the Bush administration felt it alone had the right to that sensitive knowledge. Either way, it represents one of the political challenges to transferring information from one government entity to another.

The handling of the British terrorist plot illustrates the Cold War mentality of keeping intelligence safely guarded. This mindset is one of the cultural barriers to information sharing, said Eileen Larence, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office. Agencies are slowly moving away from the "need to know" basis to "need to share," but it takes a long time to change the culture, she said in an interview.

A key challenge for fusion centers is the traditionally separate roles of law enforcement and the intelligence community.

"Part of the problem, I believe, lies in historical cultural differences between the intelligence community and law enforcement. For decades, our government erected a wall - a very solid wall - between these two functions," said Cathy Lanier, acting chief of police for the District of Columbia, in a statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In the past, legal barriers limited information sharing between the two entities, but now law enforcement has the responsibility for local and federal intelligence, Larence remarked. The transition has so far been less than smooth.

Numerous fusion center officials claim that although they get a lot of information from the government, they never seem to get the right data or get it in a timely manner, said a recent Congressional Research Service report, "Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress. …

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