Nearly five years after 9/11,

Nearly five years after 9/11, reports show the federal government has made limited progress on sharing terrorism information because of uncertainty about what to share, and how to do so without infringing on civil liberties.

States are filling in some of the gaps by setting up intelligence fusion centers, though those activities also are stirring privacy concerns.

Bringing together disparate bits of intelligence to identify terrorist plots in advance — connecting the dots, as it’s been called — emerged as one of the top security priorities for the nation following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Homeland Security Department was created in 2002, and the Information-Sharing Environment in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004, to stimulate the data-sharing that would help in making those connections.

However, several recent reports have called attention to significant shortcomings in those efforts:

  • July 13. The Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age called for a new paradigm for information-sharing, calling federal guidelines insufficient. “The government still has not taken many key steps to meet the challenges of sharing information to prevent terrorism while protecting civil liberties,” the task force said.
  • June 28. The DHS inspector general reported that the federal Homeland Security Information Network, the department’s premier information-sharing network, is ineffective in supporting information-sharing among federal, state and local officials. The network is not being used regularly because there is lack of trust among users. “Users are confused and frustrated,” the report said.
  • April 17. A Government Accountability Office report said that federal policies for information-sharing against terrorism are fragmented and applied haphazardly. “The nation still lacks government wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts,” GAO wrote.

It’s pretty straight forward actually; Allow collectors to only collect, stop permitting data “ownership,” and make sharing and collaboration a performance metric (alternately, get rid of duplicative analytical elements so that you have no choice but to deliver).

HISN, the Department’s solution to ISACs. Keep dreaming. ISACs barely work and then only after the formal stuff is over and the booze and cigars have been handed out. When sharing could get you pilloried (or worse) and the agency pushing the issue can’t get its own house in order it doesn’t help the situation. People share with those they trust and trust comes after a sit-down, not a dial-in. It isn’t very 21st century, but it is what works. Apply IT to the mix and now you are obliged to record and store all that sharing and in the passage of time and the loss of context, you could get screwed. I am reminded of my own days of membership in an IC “double-secret underground partnership” cohort; key people, no agenda, no records. It worked.

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