9/11 panel stirs political pot
Congress rushes to adopt anti-terrorism reforms<@VM>Swift moves (continued from main story)<@VM>Panel recommends more use of IT technology
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Aug 12, 2004
Testifying Aug. 3 at a House hearing on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations are (from left): Paul Light, New York University; Bob Collet, AT&T Government Solutions; Daniel Duff, American Public Transportation Association; John McCarthy, Critical Infrastructure Project; and James Dempsey, Center for Democracy and Technology.
Since July 15, Congress has introduced at least eight bills seeking to improve the nation's homeland security operations. Three of those bills were introduced July 22, the same day the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reported its findings.
Since July 22, lawmakers have scheduled at least 15 congressional hearings to discuss the commission's recommendations, which include a reorganization of the nation's intelligence operations and increased use of anti-terrorism technologies such as biometrics.
This level of activity -- much of it occurring during a congressional recess that began July 26 and will go until Sept. 6 -- is unprecedented, said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a Washington think tank.
"Under normal circumstances, these kinds of reforms would not pass. This year is different," Ornstein said.
Pressure from the 9/11 Commission members to act, as well as from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who embraced the commission's recommendations in whole, and the threat of another terrorist attack in the United States make "some action much more likely," Ornstein said.
In particular, Ornstein said there is pressure to create a central authority over all of the nation's intelligence operations. The commission recommended creating the position of national intelligence director. According to the commission's plan, this White House position would coordinate the activities of the nation's intelligence agencies and control their budgets. President Bush has endorsed the idea but said the position shouldn't be located in the White House.
Despite the best intentions of lawmakers and the White House, it's uncertain whether any far-reaching changes will be made soon, industry experts and congressional scholars said.
"The fact that so many things have been scheduled over recess is a clear indication that Congress intends to pursue [the commission recommendations] vigorously," said Brendan Peter, senior director of the Enterprise Solutions Division at the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. "We've already got 15 or 16 hearings scheduled, and that diffuse of an effort makes it challenging to come together on issues quickly."
Greg Baroni, president of the Global Public Sector unit of Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa., said he expects politicians will seek attention this election year by embracing parts of the commission report, but it could be at least a year before real opportunities emerge for IT companies.
"I seriously doubt anything will be incorporated in the [fiscal] 2005 budget other than low-hanging fruit," Baroni said. "In 2006, I expect a more coherent view of opportunities will emerge."The 9/11 Commission made wide-ranging recommendations, including the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center that would replace the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and other terrorism information centers within the government with one center.
It also advised that the government speed implementation of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, a system that uses biometrics to track the entry and exit of foreign visitors to the United States. It said federal standards are needed for issuing birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers' licenses.
The commission's recommendation to create a national intelligence director has garnered widespread attention. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-Pa.), want Congress to move quickly to create the position.
Others, such as Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), said the commission's recommendations regarding border security, information sharing databases, intergovernmental coordination and other issues are equally -- if not more -- important than the national intelligence director.
Since mid-July, lawmakers have introduced numerous bills that mirror or complement the commission's recommend- ations. Two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, call for founding a network that would enable sharing of terrorism-related information among federal, state and local agencies and the private sector.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), mirrors the commission's recommendation to build a decentralized information-sharing network.
This type of network was also proposed in December 2003 by the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, a New York nonprofit group that works to accelerate using IT for health care and national security.
Commission members Bob Kerrey and John Lehman testified at an Aug. 3 House Government Reform Committee hearing that with such a network, "agencies would still have their own databases, but those databases would be searchable across agency lines.
In this system, secrets are protected through the design of the network that controls access to the data, not access to the network."
Another new bill calls for the creation of a Homeland Security Signal Corps to ensure that first responders can communicate with one another. Yet another bill calls for integration of the automated fingerprint identification systems of the FBI and the Homeland Security Department.
Industry executives have embraced the commission recommendations and legislative proposals, which endorse current uses of IT to improve homeland security and creating a national intelligence director position.
Developing a community of intelligence agencies working together and led by a common leader "would be a terrific move in the right direction," Baroni said. Reorganization would facilitate a common pipeline of information and would allow the intelligence director to clarify the responsibilities of DHS and intelligence agencies.
"With clarity comes opportunity for industry, opportunity for everything from strategic consulting to the deployment of technologies that facilitate information sharing and monitoring," Baroni said.
The technologies for the kind of information-sharing system proposed by the commission and in legislation are available, including common interfaces, information resource management tools and auditing systems, James Dempsey said at the hearing.
Dempsey is a member of the Markle Task Force and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington nonprofit organization that works to balance the rights of free expression and privacy in electronic communications.
"What is needed is the leadership to force adoption of these technologies and to guide their implementation. ... That should be an important responsibility of the new national intelligence director," Dempsey said.
Some industry executives warned against going too far to fulfill the commission's desire to improve information sharing among agencies by moving the government from a mind-set of "need to know" to one of "need to share."
Bob Collet, vice president for engineering at AT&T Government Solutions, said many states and some federal agencies have sought detailed maps of telecommunication companies' networks for the purpose of protecting critical infrastructure.
"In the wrong hands, this compilation of critical infrastructure assets only increases the vulnerability of the critical telecommunications infrastructure," Collet said at the Aug. 3 hearing. He recommended that all critical infrastructure information provided to the government by the private sector be routed through DHS, which would disseminate the information on a "need to know" basis.
Whatever steps the government takes to improve information sharing, contractors will have to rethink how they serve their customers, said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., a McLean, Va., government IT market research firm.
"There are going to be new statutory requirements that these customers collaborate through a new national intelligence director or new chief information officer and specialized [information-sharing] organizations," Bjorklund said. "Industry is going to have to get on the same bandwagon."
Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at email@example.com.The 9/11 Commission advocated increased use of information technology to improve homeland security. Among its recommendations:
- Expanding the use of information systems that authenticate travel documents and detect potential terrorist indicators at consulates, border inspection lines, immigration services offices and intelligence and enforcement units.
- Integrating the U.S. border security system into a larger network of screening points that includes the U.S. transportation system and access to vital facilities, such as nuclear reactors.
- Speeding implementation of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, a system that uses biometrics to track the entry and exit of foreign visitors to the United States. The plan of implementation by 2010 "may be too slow," the commission said.
- Prioritizing a single program to speed known travelers, allowing inspectors to focus on greater risks. This program is likely to combine radio frequency technology with biometric identifiers, the commission said.
- Exchanging terrorist information with other countries, along with listings of lost and stolen passports.
- Setting federal standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification such as driver's licenses.
- Deploying scanning technologies designed to screen containers that can be transported by plane, ship, truck or rail.
- Implementing CAPPS II, the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System that identifies potentially dangerous airline travelers. It was put on hold last month by the Homeland Security Department because of data privacy concerns. A department spokeswoman said then that the system would be redesigned.
- Screening people for explosives, not just their carry-on bags.
- Expediting the installation of advanced baggage-screening equipment.
- Sharing of homeland security data across a decentralized network. Agencies would still have their own databases, but those databases would be searchable across agency lines. In this system, secrets are protected through a design that controls access to the data, not access to the whole network.