New security threats reshape agencies' info-sharing tactics

'I don't think anybody realized how much [the interagency Terrorist Screening Center] could cost.'

'TSC Director Donna A. Bucella

NEW ORLEANS'Shifts in the hazards facing the country are forcing changes in the culture and technology of information sharing.

The special challenges of terrorism have forced agencies to combine operations and intelligence in new ways, find additional funds for projects such as terrorist watch-list management, exploit emerging information sharing tools and hone technology for interagency task forces, federal officials said last week at the Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security.

'The change is driven by the threat,' said Maureen Baginski, executive assistant director of the FBI's Intelligence Office, who held several senior positions at the National Security Agency before joining the bureau.

She emphasized the importance of cultural change at the FBI, saying, 'In this [change process] the soft stuff is the hard stuff,' and pointed out that the bureau had changed itself before in response to previous threats such as the Cold War and the narcotics trade.

Baginski said extremists such as those who mounted the deadly May 2004 Madrid train station bombings operated in some ways as a network and in others as a shifting nebula that gels as needed. The enemy benefits from a consolidated mission, a common operational picture and a shared information space.

By contrast, the federal route to information sharing has been slowed by officials' proprietary view of their own intelligence and information, Baginski said, echoing other speakers. 'Where I think we have made an error is in investment,' she said. 'The investment we need to make is to understand each other.'

The cultural gulfs separating agencies are reflected in their incompatible jargon and unconnected systems, Baginski said. 'We have built thoroughly modern stovepipes'new ones.'

Baginski led dozens of bureau offices to align the FBI's intelligence with the threats it faces and sponsored an overarching source database to consolidate information.

Meanwhile, across the river from the FBI's downtown headquarters in Arlington, Va., the interagency Terrorist Screening Center is seeking additional funds to bolster its terrorist watch list center's technology, director Donna A. Bucella said last week.

The 17-month-old center operated its first year with a budget of $29 million and has been running in its second year with funds drawn directly from the FBI budget, Bucella said.

'I have been going to the Hill and asking for [more] money,' Bucella said of her efforts to finance systems improvements. 'I don't think anybody realized how much it could cost.'

Frank Doe, the center's CIO, has been evaluating commercial software packages for the third version of the organization's Terrorist Screening Database, Bucella said. Doe also has been looking to mix a 'cocktail' of components to create an advanced system for matching names of terrorists from various lists, she added.

One of the biggest problems center IT officials face has been cleaning up available data on terrorists. Bucella said her IT team members said they had never seen such 'dirty data,' with many records fragmentary at best.

One system that provided some of TSC's data did not include the gender of the individuals named, she added, apparently because its designers assumed they would all be male.

Meanwhile, TSC officials have removed about 7,000 names from the various watch lists. For example, some data received from foreign governments was culled because it included poison-pen allegations, she said.

'These people are trying us out every day,' Bucella said; some attempt to board flights simply to find out whether the watch list includes their names.

David Owen, deputy director of the FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, said his organization had activated a system called the Query Tracking Indication Program to search about 50 data sources, including government and private-sector databases.

The FBI is working to streamline the search process and increase the size of its data mart from some 500 million entities to about 4 billion, Owen said.

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