Testimony: DHS intelligence units need better links

The Transportation Security Administration's intelligence office needs to improve its IT links with other intelligence units within the Homeland Security Department, a senior TSA official said at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Connectivity needs to expand between TSA and other agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard, said William Gaches, assistant administrator for intelligence at TSA.

Gaches said connectivity is an area that he and his deputy are interested in moving forward to "bring closer connectivity between the component intelligence parts of DHS" as well as to its Office of Intelligence and Analysis central activity.

Gaches testified at a hearing titled "TSA's Intelligence Office: Progress and Challenges," before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, information-sharing and terrorism risk assessment.

Later in the hearing, in response to questions from Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), Gaches offered more details on the computer links between TSA's intelligence office and other units.

TSA can electronically obtain reports from Customs and Border Patrol, ICE, Coast Guard and all DHS components, as well as the intelligence community component, Gaches said. "There are limitations. I can't say that we have access to 100 percent of everything that is out there," Gaches said.

Overall, the links among TSA and other DHS intelligence units are fairly well covered by electronic connectivity, as well as by informal contacts such as telephone conversations, conferences and meetings, Gaches said.

Gaches said he coordinates work closely with DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen, with the TSA intelligence unit focused on transportation threats. TSA provides its information to the central office and has access to the office's intelligence products.

Allen's approach is to be a strategic ombudsman for intelligence within the department, being aware of and strategically assessing issues related to the component intelligence units, Gaches said.

The TSA intelligence unit, on the other hand, is more tactical and likely to be interacting daily with law enforcement officials at airports, train stations, shipyards and highways, he said.

Also at the hearing, Cathleen Berrick, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office, testified that TSA's Secure Flight passenger screening program, in development for three years, is being reassessed because of challenges resolving issues with passenger privacy, among other problems. Gaches said he has no direct responsibility for Secure Flight.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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