THE MAGAZINE

A Lack of Trust

By Sherry L. Harowitz

Recently a top-level representative from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence discussed the government’s intelligence information-sharing program with a group of leading private security professionals. The speaker explained that the government had a plan. Well, actually, a plan for drawing up a plan.

The plan, or rather the process, which would lead to the development of the plan for improving intelligence sharing, was mandated in the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, and this official was charged with carrying it out. He explained that under this plan for the plan, his division had 90 days—which will just be ending as you read this—to map out what the existing information-sharing arrangement among government agencies and private industry entities looks like.

In another 90 days, his group will finally draw up a plan for improving the existing situation. This would be the plan, as opposed to the plan for the plan.

But here’s the kicker—though they had not even begun mapping the system, yet alone considering how to fix it, the end was a foregone conclusion: He knew, he informed us, that the new system would look very much like the old system.

That being the case, one has to wonder—why wait six months to get started? But more troubling than the loss of critical time is the implication that the government officials charged with improving the information-sharing system believe that it is fundamentally good and only needs to be tweaked.

In fact, the information-sharing process among government agencies and with the private sector suffers from a basic—and difficult to fix—problem: Lack of trust. The government official in charge of fixing information sharing gave the general impression that the status quo of not trusting private sector corporate security with specific timely and actionable classified information wasn’t likely to change.

And that lack of trust goes both ways. A few days earlier, a group of top-level security personnel discussing the lack of progress in intelligence reform had expressed their reluctance to share proprietary information with the government to help in the fight against terrorism lest it be used against their corporations in some other context.

Not long after those two meetings, Osama bin Laden released another tape warning that he intends to strike again at the heartland of the United States.

I trust that he means what he says.

The question is: Can government and private industry learn to trust each other with the intelligence they gather before it is too late?

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