Briefing Note on Information Sharing
Issue: Counterterrorism Information Sharing
Role of Information Sharing Since 9/11
The importance of sharing intelligence information related to terrorism among the various law enforcement agencies and the federal security machinery cannot be overemphasized. There various roles that information sharing plays in detecting and preventing terrorism activities. Firstly, terrorist attacks take place in a community setting. It is the duty of local, state and community based responders as well law enforcement officials to initiate the first response team. Information sharing is necessary ensure timely response. Timely response is essential in mitigating the impact and reducing the number of causalities from the attack.
Secondly, terrorist often take time to plot terrorist attacks. Terrorist often go to extra lengths to ensure that their activities are successful and that they record the highest possible number of causalities as possible. For instance, they have to identify and surveillance the target location, plan how they will transport the weapons for the attack and how they will escape after the attack. They even at times recruit participants from the neighborhood. Security official can pick up some of the information from various platforms such as during patrols, complaints or reports by the public or observation. These pieces of information can be aggregated and patched up to reveal the terrorists plans. However, this is only possible if information sharing is allowed.
Thirdly, information that is acquired for totally unrelated purposes by a given authority may provide important insights when combined with other available information. However, it is only possible if analyst have access to that information. It is not possible to know which unrelated information may prove vital when solving a puzzle of potential terrorist activities. Therefore, maintaining open networks among various governmental agencies that allow information sharing is essential.
Major Improvements Made In Information Sharing and Counterterrorism since 9/11
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated the establishment of a national information sharing framework dubbed Information Sharing Environment (ISE). The framework provides resources, procedures, technologies, standards and policies for information sharing among local, state and federal jurisdictions. In addition, the ISE highlights the significance of gathering and sharing information while emphasizing the timely flow of actionable information among private, government and public agencies. As of now, the concerted efforts of the various stakeholders have resulted in the following progress:
Establishment of the National Network of Fusion Centers: these facilities are run by state and local security agencies. They facilitate sharing of terrorism information among different levels of government while implementing policies to protect civil liberties and individual rights. The level of collaboration between fusion centers and other security agencies such as the FBI has increased.
Adoption of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM): this model was designed as a successful strategy to structure collaboration and enable better sharing of information. Currently, NIEM is being used by many stakeholders including foreign anti-terrorism partners to develop standards for information sharing both within and outside the United States.
Establishment of plans to align and unify user identification on security systems. This relies on the use of the Federal Identity Credential and Access Management (FICAM). This initiative represents a major milestone in establishing accountability and in facilitating appropriate use of information related to terrorism and other security threats.
Provision of access to data depositories across multiple government agencies in accordance with legal protections and mission authorities: all relevant government agencies have access to multiple federal networks with information about potential security threats. This is a major improvement from the pre-9/11 security arrangements which were characterized by high-level information secrecies.
Development of an authoritative database of suspected and known terrorist identities for both individual and groups. Pertinent information from this database can be linked with that from the FBI database to monitor potential terrorist attacks. In addition, data mining centers have been established to uncover and prevent terrorist plots.
Improvement of inter-agency communication to streamline dialogue. This is based on the consideration that timely communication is critical in responding to potential terrorist threats.
Current Issues with Information Sharing
The changing nature of the global security landscape challenges security agencies and other stakeholders to set threshold for best practices in information sharing. Although it is expected that information should flow freely across jurisdictional, organizational and functional boundaries, the urgent need for information sharing raises major issues as highlighted below:
Reasons for terrorism and threats to US national security are becoming diverse: nuclear proliferation, cybercrimes, terrorist attacks on US interest abroad and homeland, regional instabilities and global economic instabilities are some of the threats facing the US national security. It is expected that future security threats will evolve tremendously as terrorists learn to counter US anti-terrorism measures. The diversity of motivations for terrorism underscores the need for effective sharing of intelligence information.
Unaligned organizational cultures present obstacles to timely sharing, analysis and implementation of information: there is a need for security agencies and departments to recognize the important role they can play in sharing and safeguarding relevant information. To this end, they must develop organizational cultures capable of overcoming self-centered practices and embracing nationwide perspectives. This can be achieved by creating a well-coordinated security framework to promote speedy, cost effective and efficient sharing of information between various security agencies and departments.
Quality control is a big challenge: in most cases, security agencies work on information that is incomplete, inaccurate or vague. This makes it difficult to counter security threats before they materialize. To ensure quality control, it is necessary to develop techniques that help stakeholders in ascertaining the provenance of all information shared.
Barriers created by poor network interoperability across security agencies and departments: differences in organizational technologies and policies prevent different users from gaining access to crucial resources on disparate networks. If information sharing has to be meaningful, there is need for security apparatus to facilitate access to information with classified and sensitive networks while maintaining high levels of integrity for using such information.
Poor safeguarding of critical information: the ability of stakeholders to properly safeguard all shared information is related to efficiency in identity management, access controls, governance practices and enterprise audit capabilities. Failure to pay adequate attention to any of these practices means that information shared can be easily compromised or that it cannot be worked upon expeditiously.
Economic constraints: economic hardships of the past few years have affected the ability of stakeholders to gather, analyze and share information. For instance, most households cannot afford to install sophisticated security surveillance systems, which can give vital security information. Mission objectives of security sharing should be aligned with the country’s extreme economic environment.
As the quantity of information shared increases, there is a need for advanced analytic and correlation capabilities: acting on an abundance of data (some of which might be inaccurate) and turning it into crucial intelligence information is a major problem for all stakeholders. This calls for advanced correlation and analytic capabilities including tools, training and techniques.
Bjelopera, J. (2011). Terrorism Information Sharing and the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Report Initiative: Background and Issues for Congress. Washington DC: Congressional Research Service.