Progress made on info sharing
- By William Welsh
- Jul 31, 2004
While praising individual info-sharing efforts, Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) said "the initiatives do not necessarily integrate others into a truly national system and may inadvertently hamper information sharing for this reason."
J. Adam Fenster
But cities, states lag behind feds in gathering terrorist information
There have been noticeable improvements to information sharing at all three levels of government, but "more work remains to be done," said Mark Zadra of the Florida Office of Statewide Intelligence.
J. Adam Fenster
State and local governments want new interoperability standards and additional funding from the federal government to help them improve their ability to gather and analyze terrorist threat information.
Federal threat intelligence capabilities have improved dramatically since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but similar functions at the state government level lag far behind. "There have been many mechanisms and protocols put into practice that have improved information sharing among all levels of government," said Mark Zadra, chief of investigations with the Florida Office of Statewide Intelligence.
"It's evident, however, that more work remains to be done."
Although a few states and large cities have built automated systems to boost their intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities, most have yet to retool their systems to effectively counter terrorist threats, according to government and industry officials.
Most state and local systems "aren't appropriate for the threat they are trying to counter now from terrorist organizations," said Bob Hickes, director of homeland security for state and local government with BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va.
To achieve capabilities comparable to their federal counterparts, state and local law enforcement and homeland security organizations want guidance in the form of national standards to build interoperable information sharing systems and grant assistance to build such systems.
"It's imperative that the federal government ensure that we not just build databases and systems, but that we require any [federally] funded system to meet a national standard for information sharing," Zadra said.
State and local governments must access terrorist threat information through multiple portals and databases, Zadra said. Instead, states want "single-query access" to pertinent and previously disparate data to fit together the puzzle pieces regarding terrorists and their organizations dispersed throughout the nation and the world, he said.
Zadra articulated this challenge last month at a hearing at which officials from all levels of government testified on information sharing. The hearing was before the House Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and the Census.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) praised individual efforts by federal, state and city governments to share terrorist threat information, but said, "the initiatives do not necessarily integrate others into a truly national system and may inadvertently hamper information sharing for this reason."
The subcommittee might revisit the topic in hearings on related matters in September, said Ursula Wojciechowski, a subcommittee spokeswoman.
In the meantime, subcommittee staff will continue gathering information about the status of the networks and whether progress is being made toward integrating them, she said.
The federal government also needs to consolidate so-called watch lists into a uniform reporting system that state and local governments can use through one portal, said Jeff Vining, research vice president of intelligence for the market research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.
At the same time, federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies must make sure the information they are passing to state and local governments is done in a consistent fashion, Hickes said.
In Pennsylvania, for example, half of the state and local law enforcement agencies get their intelligence information from the FBI's Philadelphia field office; the other half gets its information from the bureau's Pittsburgh office, he said.
"They need to sing from the same sheet of music," Hickes said.
BearingPoint is the contractor for the Pennsylvania Justice Network, a system that provides a real-time link among the FBI, state agencies with criminal justice responsibilities and various cities and counties.
State and local governments receive threat information through several systems, including the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), Regional Information Sharing Systems program and the FBI's Law Enforcement Online network, federal officials told the subcommittee.
[IMGCAP(2)]HSIN provides a secure but unclassified link to share real-time information with the 50 states and the nation's 50 largest urban areas, he said.
Before the end of the year, state and local recipients also will get classified information through HSIN, said Patrick Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis with Homeland Security's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate.
A drawback to HSIN is that it's being built from the top down by the federal government rather than from the bottom up, based on the needs of state and local stakeholders, Vining said. "The entire network was created without any state and local input, he said.
States are allowed to post their own leads and share information on possible terrorist activities through the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, a multi-agency initiative tasked with integrating and analyzing threat information.
State and local officials acknowledged that the federal government has made substantial progress toward establishing new mechanisms such as the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and protocols for information sharing. They applauded efforts by the FBI to collaborate with state and local government to thwart terrorist threats.
States are now getting a flood of information through FBI field offices around country, Zadra said.
"There is no doubt that we're receiving a tremendous amount of information we previously didn't receive," he said. "This is primarily because of enhanced information and working relationships with the FBI."
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI has expedited security clearances to share classified information, expanded joint terrorism task forces to better share counterterrorism information and shared otherwise classified material with persons without clearance to receive such information on a need-to-know basis as allowed by executive order, Vining said. n
Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.