Commission calls for decentralized intelligence network

Federal intelligence agencies should forge a decentralized, trusted information network that would share data horizontally as part of a global response to terrorism, according to the 9/11 Commission.

The final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States cited the Markle Commission's recommendation that the government create a decentralized network for intelligence sharing rather than a hub-and-spoke model.

"Agencies would still have their own databases, but those databases would be searchable across agency lines," according to the commission's report. "In this system, secrets are protected through the design of the network and an 'information rights management' management approach that controls access to the data, not access to the whole network."

The commission further recommended that the president coordinate the resolution of legal, policy and technical issues across agencies to create the decentralized network. Agencies acting alone could be limited to modernizing existing stovepipes, or unconnected systems, rather than replacing them, the commission said.

The IT recommendations came as part of a call for a sweeping overhaul of the government's response to radical Islamic terrorism.

The commission recommended concentrating intelligence authority under a new, cabinet-level national intelligence director and unifying intelligence sharing via a National Counterterrorism Center.

The report said the NCTC could be modeled after the interagency Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which unites intelligence community and law enforcement resources with personnel and information from other agencies.

TTIC has already taken some steps to create a federated information sharing capability (GCN story). The existing counterterrorism center has launched a system called Sanctum, designed to help intelligence analysts execute queries across several incompatible intelligence systems.

TTIC planners expect to expand Sanctum's capabilities to additional databases in coming months to speed the work of intelligence analysts.

The commission called for additional federal IT upgrades to guard against terrorist attacks, including:

  • Quick completion of a biometric entry-exit screening system?the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator system

  • Completion of vital improvements in no-fly and automatic selectee lists at airports, partly by preventing delays caused by "arguments about a new computerized profiling system"?the recently cancelled Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II (GCN story)

  • Adopting new information gathering and sharing standards

  • Creating an incident command system to strengthen teamwork in a crisis, including allocation of additional radio spectrum for emergency response

  • Adopting new standards for birth certificates and drivers licenses.

The report also called for reorganization of executive agencies and congressional committees responsible for homeland defense. The commission further urged that the federal government publish many more details of its intelligence spending than it has in the past.

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