Is Information Sharing Too Regulated? Has a Lack of Sharing Caused a Key Intelligence Failure?
Government agencies unanimously agree that they failed to know in advance the September 11th plot for lack of information sharing. The September 11th attack was the demonstration of the government agencies’ failure to have a network among themselves that would have enabled them to know the plan to attack well in advance and to actually to prevent the attack from happening. The U.S. Government admits that it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and state and local law enforcement had shared among themselves their knowledge about the hijackers and their impending attacks and taken appropriate action.
Prior to the 9/11 attack, it has come to the knowledge that there had been ten lost opportunities to prevent the attack because of lack of sharing of information between the CIA and the FBI. It was rather a regulatory failure than a deliberate withholding of information from one another. At the time, law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies “were driven by Cold War ‘need to know’ culture that stove piped information and stymied cooperation” as if there had been a wall between the two agencies.
A CIA analyst’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission brought to light that he did not pass on the information about a terrorist whom he suspected since the FBI also appeared to have held the surveillance pictures of the suspect and also because he had no authority to answer FBI questions regarding CIA information. Individuals within agencies functioned like in hierarchical pyramids that prevented collaboration between people on the edges to purse the leads. For example, in July 2001 an FBI officer stationed in the Phoenix Field Office sent a memo to his HQ that Osama Bin Laden was planning to send students for flight training and after a month Minneapolis FBI office without the knowledge of Phoenix memo, started investigation into what might be a plan to hijack a plane as one Zacarias Moussaoui had been taking flight lessons. FBI headquarters did not take action on the Phoenix memo and instructed Minneapolis office not to share the information it had about Moussaoui with the FAA. These lapses actually failed to “connect the dots” which phrase became popular since 9/11 attack although the phrase does oversimplify the way in which information was shared or not shared and the governmental agencies did not work in unison.
In the aftermath of the intelligence failure resulted as above explained, the Government set up Markel Task Force resulting in the passing of legislation, executive orders and 9/11 commission report. The reorganization since the 9/11 attack which enabled agencies and people to collaborate and communicate has accomplished killing of the top al-Qaeda leaders. In this manner, further attacks on the homeland have been prevented thanks to the transformation in the manner in which governmental agencies work together in tandem and share information to detect and preempt attacks by the terrorists The “need to know” has transformed into “need to share culture” by which there has been a greater flow of information and collaboration across federal, state, and local and private agencies. The information has also been decentralized and distributed. Social networking tools are also used by the analysts to connect with their counterparts all over the Government. Information does not have to go up a chain of command or come from on high. The virtual reorganization has accomplished the three missions of killing Osama bin Laden, arrest of Najibullah Zazi and Faisal Shahzad. Capture and killing of Osama on May 2, 2011 was made possible through a long-term, dedicated multi-agency work which was attributed to the much closer collaboration and intelligence sharing. In the capture of the Osama bin Laden, credit goes to the concerted efforts of the CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Director of National Agency (DNI). As for the arrest of Najibullah Zazi in September 2009 for his role in the plot to bomb the New York City subway system, it was made possible by the collaborative efforts of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the New York and Denver Police. In case of Faisal Shahzad apprehended in May 2010 for his attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square could be achieved due to the improved use of No Fly List as part of watch-listing procedures.
The above could be achieved due to the model of Combining Joint Intelligence and Joint Action which integrated all the sources of information to perceive the enemy as a whole. This was in pursuance of the recommendation to establish a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) which was to be a center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence with personnel drawn from various agencies. The head of the NCTC was vested with the authority to evaluate the personnel deputed to the center. This apart, information procedures were so designed to provide incentive for sharing in order to have a better balance between security and shared knowledge. The passing of the National Security Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 paved way for the increased collaboration across the intelligence community.
Budinger, Z. B., & Smith, J. H. (2011). Ten Years After 9/11: A Status Report On Information Sharing. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.
Green, A. W. (2005). WHY THE US INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY DOES NOT SHARE INFORMATION. SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIR AND SPACE STUDIES.
Kean, T. H., Hamiliton, L. H., Ben-Veniste, R., Kerrey, B., Fielding, F. F., Lehman, J. F., et al. (2004). Chapter 13 How To Do It? A Different Way of Organizing the Government. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Report). U.S. Government Printing Office .