Ten years after 9/11, report details gaps in intelligence networks

Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks U.S. intelligence agencies are still struggling to strengthen the information sharing networks that broke down in 2001, according to the latest report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

“Counterterrorism requires the close coordination of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but there remain many institutional and procedural issues that complicate cooperation between the two sets of agencies,” states the report, issued earlier this month by the nonpartisan research arm of Congress.

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The 33-page overview of outstanding intelligence issues that Congress needs to address focuses on several key barriers that prevent the CIA, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI, and nearly a dozen other agencies and branches of the military from seamlessly gathering and sharing information about terrorists and their plots.

The report comes amid concerns that the 10th anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in downtown Manhattan may be cause for another terrorist attack. The Navy SEALS retrieved information from the compound housing Osama bin Laden following his killing that suggested the former al Qaeda head was planning an attack to coincide with the anniversary.

A key area that leaves the U.S. vulnerable to attack is when agencies “stovepipe” information, or prevent other agencies from having access to the intelligence either because of longstanding bureaucratic ineptitude or turf disputes, according to the report.

“Agencies that obtain highly sensitive information are reluctant to share it throughout the intelligence community out of a determination to protect their sources,” it states.

This breakdown in communication led in part to the attacks on September 11, 2001, and more recently the failed bombing of the Detroit-bound commercial airliner Christmas Day 2009, in which the State Department received word of a possible attack but failed to share it with the NCTC in time to disrupt the attack. Congress is reviewing the performance of the NCTC.

The Patriot Act of 2001 made great strides in eliminating some of the barriers around information sharing between agencies, according to the report, but new problems arose as millions of pieces of intelligence began to stream through the various agencies without a uniform filter through which to analyze it all.

“The PATRIOT Act was designed to facilitate an all-source intelligence effort against terrorist groups that work both inside and outside U.S. borders,” it states. “Nevertheless, problems of coordination and institutional rivalries persist.”

“The ultimate goal of intelligence is accurate analysis. Analysis is not, however, an exact science and there have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, failures by analysts to prepare accurate and timely assessments and estimates.”

But there is a fine line between sharing enough information between agencies and giving too many people access to information that isn’t pertinent to their area of analysis or investigation. The report points to the Wikileaks episode last year, in which thousands of classified documents were leaked and published by major newspapers.

On September 13, the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee plan to hold a joint open hearing with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and unnamed CIA officials to “examine evolution of threats against the U.S. and ways to further integrate the intelligence community.”

“The ten year anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity to take stock of the progress made in the Intelligence Community in the past decade, and explore ways to achieve further integration and coordination within the Intel Community,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House panel, in a statement ahead of the hearing.