ed091102: Unfiltered Intelligence
Who knows more about the latest Hollywood blockbuster -- the people
who read the reviews or the people who see the movie?
The second group, obviously. The others must depend on the
reviewer, who decides what's worth going to see and what isn't.
Second-hand information is never as good as first-hand
Yet second-hand information is all the forthcoming Department of
Homeland Security would have to go on if some federal lawmakers
have their way. The legislation being considered by Congress would
let each intelligence agency decide what information is important
enough to forward to the department -- and what it can keep for
Such an arrangement would leave all of us pretty much at the mercy
of the same intelligence-sharing snafus that left the government
unable to "connect the dots" that pointed to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The new department would be dependent on whole-hearted cooperation
and voluntary openness from agencies that are legendary for their
refusal to share data and analysis with others.
But the intelligence section of the new department can't function
effectively without being able to dip into the raw intelligence
information gathered by investigative agencies. This would allow
department analysts to follow up on "curiosities" (such as a sudden
flood of foreign visitors with an unusual interest in flying
lessons), piece the information together and make independent
judgments about it.
We're not talking about inundating the Department of Homeland
Security with every report ever filed by every intelligence and law
enforcement agency in the country. We're talking about enabling
department analysts to pursue shadowy images of threat -- glimpsed
dimly from reports submitted by others -- by going back to the
original data files and seeing if they contain more information
that can flesh out the threat or, perhaps, dispel it.
Therein lies a crucial weakness in the House and Senate homeland
security bills. Without access to the raw intelligence in
government databases, analysts in the department would remain
dependent on others' judgment of what they "need to know." They
would never gain access to all relevant information -- the very
situation that reigned in the American intelligence community on
We need to remember that information about many of the Sept. 11
terrorists and their movements existed in federal databases before
that tragic day. But these databases weren't linked in any way, so
the fact that we possessed such information didn't do us much good
when we needed it most -- before an attack was launched.
Five of the attackers were on the watch lists of different federal
agencies, and three of that five were on a CIA watch list. But who
was watching them on Sept. 11? Three of the 13 who were in the
United States on visitors' visas had seen their visas expire. Would
this situation have gone unresolved for so long if one department
charged solely with homeland security were aware of it? Perhaps,
but surely we would have a much greater chance of preventing
terrorist attacks if crucial information of this sort wasn't
splintered among dozens of federal agencies.
The Department of Homeland Security needs more than just access to
raw intelligence and law enforcement data, however. The new
secretary should be allowed to draw analysts from the existing
agencies so that he or she can take advantage of their different
skills and knowledge.
The department also must be able to access other government
databases, such as those at the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS), the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA). It can then "fuse" that information
in a way that isn't being done today by any of the nation's
intelligence or law enforcement agencies. And if we use special
computer programs that can sift through information at high speed,
we can speed up this process significantly.
As the department's analysts gain experience, their ability to
"fuse" this information for those entrusted with our homeland
security can only improve -- giving us what may turn out to be a
crucial advantage over terrorists who would attack us in the
Unless we give the new department the ability to access and analyze
raw intelligence data, we'll be no better off in the future than we
were on Sept. 11. And wasn't that the point?
Dr, Larry M.
Wortzel, a retired career Army intelligence officer,
serves on the Homeland Security Task Force at The Heritage