Task force: Homeland Security Dept., not FBI, should shape info priorities

A task force on national security Oct. 7 called for the new Department of Homeland Security to take the lead in shaping domestic information and intelligence priorities to inform policy-makers, rather than the FBI.

The recommendation was made in a report issued by the Markle Foundation's Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. The report, "Protecting America's Freedom in the Information Age," calls for a networked information technology system that shares information among local, state, regional and federal agencies.

People outside Washington, such as police officers, airport officials, FBI agents and emergency room doctors, do most information gathering; therefore, the government needs to use information technology to harness the power of this widely distributed information to protect Americans against terrorist threats, said Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation and co-chairperson of the task force. Baird served the Carter administration as associate counsel to the president.

"Much of the information we need is local. Rather than creating a Washington-centric model, we need to create a networked, decentralized system," Baird said at a press conference unveiling the report at the National Press Club in Washington. Task force members were set to brief the president's homeland security director, Tom Ridge, later in the day.

Such a system would facilitate information sharing among local, state, regional and federal authorities, allowing faster decision making, task force members said. The Department of Homeland Security would not own all the data, but would analyze it, they said.

"We need a centralized analytic function. That doesn't exist right now," said Philip Zelikow, executive director of the Markle Foundation. "We have lots of information, but we're not so good at processing all the information. The system works like an obsolete mainframe, not a smart network."

The federal government also needs to spend more money on information integration and sharing as it allocates $40 billion annually for homeland security, task force members said. Legislation setting up the Department of Homeland Security calls for only $200 million in spending for information sharing, said James Barksdale, co-chairperson of the task force. Barksdale, former president and chief executive of Web browser firm Netscape Communications Corp., is partner and cofounder of the Barksdale Group, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm.

The recommendations are relevant even if Congress doesn't approve the new department, said William Crowell, a task force member and former deputy director of the National Security Agency.

"The president needs to have a national strategy for information handling, regardless," Crowell said. He is now chief executive officer of Cylink Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif., provider of e-business security solutions.

The task force noted that criminal investigation and counterintelligence often overlap intelligence work, enhancing knowledge of terrorist threats. But the group's report argues that the FBI ? because it runs criminal investigations and holds arrest power ? should not be the same agency seeking domestic information from local officials and businesses. Furthermore, analysts working with that domestic information in order to inform policy makers should not be preparing court cases, the group said.

The Markle Foundation, based in New York, works to speed the use of communications media and IT to address critical public needs. Experts in national security, IT and legal and privacy issues serve on its Task Force on National Security in the Information Age.

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