Agencies stalled on intelligence info sharing, GAO report says

Negroponte counters that auditors not qualified to review intel processes

Counterterrorism information sharing among agencies remains fragmented and haphazard, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. And as an emblem of the institutional turf battles that worsen the problem, the government's top intelligence official has rejected the auditors' authority to analyze the problem.

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, declined to comment directly on GAO's report, saying that the review of intelligence activities is 'beyond GAO's purview.' GAO rejected that assessment.

The audit of intelligence information-sharing problems echoes the conclusions of a series of similar reports dating back to 2001.

Shifted responsibility

The problems reflect not only the huge challenge of the task, but also that responsibility for information sharing has been shifted among several agencies. The duties were passed from the Office of Management and Budget to DHS in 2003, but neither has completed the task, the report said.

In 2005, under the intelligence reform act, the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence took responsibility to create and oversee a new information-sharing environment. But that effort has been stalled since at least January, when its program manager resigned, GAO said.

'More than four years after Sept. 11, the nation still lacks governmentwide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts ... to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information that is critical to protecting our homeland,' GAO wrote.

Federal agencies use 56 different sensitive, unclassified designations to protect such information as investigative leads on suspected criminal activity, drug enforcement case backgrounds and nuclear power plant information. Most of the categories lack common definitions and policies for sharing.

More than half the federal agencies reviewed by GAO reported challenges in sharing sensitive but unclassified information in the 56 categories, the report said. Without overall policies, the agencies are making decisions about sharing on a case-by-case basis and are applying the classifications in a fragmented manner.

For example, sometimes different types of information are labeled similarly, and sometimes similar information is labeled differently, depending on the agency, GAO said.

In addition, there are no policies to govern which government employees, and how many, should have authority to designate specific data as sensitive. Nor are there policies on how to train those employees and review their performance.

'The lack of such recommended internal controls increases the risk that the designations will be misapplied,' the GAO report said.

GAO recommends that the director of national intelligence and OMB review inventories of agencies' sensitive but unclassified procedures, and develop a policy that consolidates the designations and makes them consistent. GAO also advises that internal controls be put into place for information sharing.

Separately, John Russack, former program manager of the information-sharing environment, announced his resignation Jan. 26. His successor, Thomas McNamara, a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and former ambassador to Colombia, was announced March 20 by the White House.

Energizing info sharing

Russack also held the job of chairman of an Information Sharing Council that includes the departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security; the directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Counterterrorism Center; and the U.S. attorney general.

President George W. Bush created that council last October in a bid to energize information sharing.

The executive order was titled 'Further Strengthening the Sharing of Terrorism Information to Protect Americans.'

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication Washington Technology.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above