By Joseph Straw, Assistant Editor
The White House issues its strategy for information sharing in the war on terrorism.
The White House has issued a 38-page National Strategy for Information Sharing , affirming current work to establish an Information Sharing Environment (ISE) as required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The goal of the ISE is to enable trusted information-sharing partnerships among parties within and outside of government who might have information pertinent to the fight againt terrorism.
The report gives this example to illustrate the concrete results that information sharing has yielded:
"A narcotics investigation - conducted by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and resulting in multiple arrests - revealed that a Canadian-based organization supplying precursor chemicals to Mexican methamphetamine producers was in fact a Hezbollah support cell."
In another case, it says that a jihadist cell was uncovered by a local police detective investigating a gas station robbery.
These cases, the report says, exemplify the value of looking outside of the formal intelligence community for information in the war on terrorism.
"The Intelligence Community will continue to be a primary source for this information; however, the Intelligence Community must modify its processes and procedures to encompass non-traditional customers at all levels of government with roles in prevention and response."
The new document does not repeat the errors of some post-9-11 reforms, in which officials re-invented the wheel rather than leveraging existing systems and relationships. The Strategy suggests that different business sectors’ historical regulatory agencies—and not necessarily the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—may serve as nodes for information sharing between the public and private sectors.
“In many cases, private sector entities have spent years establishing strong working relationships with Federal, State, and local law enforcement and other entities; this Strategy respects and encourages those established relationships,” the document states.
Sector-specific Intelligence Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), many of which predate 9-11, serve as information hubs for different industries. In the most critical sectors, they operate 24/7 operation centers, dealing historically with traditional regulatory agencies, and more recently with DHS as well.
The Strategy restates the administration’s commitment to protecting both individual civil liberties and the privacy of business information. Overall, however, the private sector remains wary of wholesale information sharing with its public counterparts.
Formal stewardship of the ISE falls to ISE Program Manager Thomas McNamara, who recently told Security Management that his office’s implementation plan met all of its Phase I goals this year, and he expects to complete formal implementation on schedule by 2009.
The new Strategy reaffirms both the role of state and local law enforcement and first responders as the country’s eyes and ears in the fight against domestic terror, and the importance of the nation's growing network of state and regional intelligence fusion centers. It notes that as of September 1, 2007, 58 fusion centers had been established or were in the process of being set up. There are also 101 Joint Terrorism Task Forces in major cities.
State and local officials frequently complain that information flows upward to federal authorities but not down to them. The Strategy addresses this concern. It embraces the new Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group (ITACG), which is composed in part of state and local representatives. It is charged with helping federal authorities develop intelligence products useful to state and local agencies.
Within the government, officials must strike a delicate balance between the need to share information and the need to protect sources and methods. Sharing of information can result in unintended public leaks as demonstrated by the September leak of information regarding a 9-11 anniversary tape purportedly from Osama bin Laden.
In that cases, the Washington, D.C.-based SITE Intelligence Group , which has quietly monitored radical Islamic Web sites for years, secured an advance copy of the recording Sept. 7, and provided it to two White House officials on the condition they not share the information until al Qaeda officially released the tape, according to The Washington Post .
Within hours, the file had been downloaded widely by both government officials and the news media, compromising SITE’s efforts, the group claimed.