DHS intelligence chief heads for the exit

Patrick Hughes, the Homeland Security Department's acting undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection, today told members of the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment that he plans to leave his post March 15. He also reported on some remaining kinks in the flow of information among intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies.

Hughes, a retired Army lieutenant general, focused his testimony on intelligence policy and endorsed the need-to-know practice and policy that has dominated the intelligence community for decades. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the full committee's ranking Democrat, asked whether the need-to-know principle would trump laws passed by Congress mandating information sharing. Hughes replied that some members of the intelligence community have built a track record of trustworthiness that leads their peers to pass information on to them.

Hughes added that while he receives the information needed to perform his job, some of his subordinates do not.

In one of his few comments on the department's IT systems, Hughes said that DHS' Homeland Security Information System now is connected to the Law Enforcement Online and Regional Information Sharing System nets run by Justice, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. 'However, I believe there should be a narrowing down of these systems to one system with one name,' Hughes said. 'This has proven to be an unpopular idea.'

Hughes said merging the systems would improve information sharing and encouraged the committee to hear testimony from proponents of HSIN as well as the law enforcement networks.

Hughes said state and local law enforcement agencies now face the dual responsibility of reporting homeland security information to both the FBI and DHS, but that they do not do so all the time.

'There are cases where the reports do not come concurrently,' Hughes said. 'They usually go to the FBI first.' He added that DHS is attempting to stem the problem by alerting local law enforcement agencies of the need to report incidents to both agencies. 'The FBI does pass [the information] on in most cases,' he said.

Hughes told the committee that a planned increase in funding for the Homeland Security Operations Center, which is set to receive a jolt of $12.9 million to a 2006 level of $26.3 million, is needed to prepare for an expected increase in information flows via HSIN. That network itself is scheduled for a $13.4 million budget boost to increase reporting from state and local agencies.

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