9/11 panel's report prompts a fresh look at IT reforms

Some of the commission's proposals

The commission called for additional federal IT upgrades to guard against terrorist attacks, including:

  • Quick completion of a biometric entry-exit screening system'the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system

  • Vital improvements in no-fly and trusted passenger lists at airports

  • New information gathering and sharing standards

  • An incident command system to strengthen teamwork in a crisis, including allocation of additional radio spectrum for emergency response

  • New standards for birth certificates and driver's licenses.
  • 'One would think that the Homeland Security Department would be a model for cybersecurity.'

    'Rep. Mac Thornberry

    Homeland security agencies and systems chiefs face a shakeup in the wake of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for the overhaul of counterterrorist systems.

    The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States said federal intelligence agencies should forge a decentralized, trusted information network that would share data horizontally as part of a global response to terrorism.

    'Agencies would still have their own databases, but those databases would be searchable across agency lines,' the report said. 'In this system, secrets are protected through the design of the network and an 'information rights management' management approach that controls access to the data, not access to the whole network.'

    Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Select Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development, cautiously embraced the commission's technical recommendations during a briefing at the National Press Club last week.

    He characterized the commission's proposal for a decentralized network as similar to data mining, and compared it to the Terrorism Information Awareness project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which received widespread criticism over privacy issues.

    The commission also recommended that the president coordinate the resolution of legal, policy and technical issues across agencies to create the decentralized network. Agencies acting alone could be limited to modernizing existing stovepipes, or unconnected systems, rather than replacing them, the commission said.

    The panel recommended concentrating intelligence authority under a new, cabinet-level national intelligence director and unifying intelligence sharing via a National Counterterrorism Center.

    The report said the center could be modeled after the interagency Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which combines intelligence community and law enforcement resources with personnel and information from other agencies.

    TTIC has already taken steps to create a federated information sharing capability. The existing counterterrorism center has launched a system called Sanctum, designed to help intelligence analysts execute queries across several incompatible intelligence systems. TTIC planners expect to expand Sanctum's capabilities to additional databases in the coming months to speed the work of intelligence analysts.

    The report also called for reorganization of executive agencies and congressional committees responsible for homeland defense. It urged that the federal government publish many more details of its intelligence spending than it has in the past.

    Thornberry noted that the pending Homeland Security authorization bill's cybersecurity section, which he wrote with his committee's ranking minority member, Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would create an assistant secretary position in the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate for cybersecurity. That move would raise the importance of cybersecurity in the department.

    'I have had a number of meetings with [DHS CIO Steve Cooper] about getting the department on a single computer system,' he said.

    Thornberry expressed disappointment about the de-partment's systems security, saying, 'One would think that the Homeland Security Department would be a model for cybersecurity.'

    The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee scheduled hearings on the commission's findings to begin July 30, and the House Homeland Security Select Committee scheduled sessions to begin Aug. 16.

    Plans for new legislation are afoot in both chambers. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and ranking minority member Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduced legislation to spur information sharing.

    In the House, Select Committee on Homeland Security chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and Counterterrorism Subcommittee chairman Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) also introduced a bill to spur information sharing.

    DHS itself has kept a low profile. Department officials said they were studying the commission's report and welcomed its recommendations.

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