- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

The urgent need for a national center for intelligence sharing was obvious well before September 11, 2001, but it did not come into being in time to avert the tragic attacks. Unfortunately, though more than four years have elapsed, the intelligence collaboration system in effect now still is not up to the task of meeting the threat. The nation remains at risk.

Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, conceived of the idea of a national collaborative center in 1999, two years before September 11. His concept would have fused U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community analysis to address issues through massive data mining of classified and unclassified information.

The national collaborative center would have been comprised of agency-owned and directed “pods” to provide automated data sharing and connectivity to confront such asymmetrical threats as terrorism, proliferation, arms trafficking, narcotics, information warfare and cyberterrorism.

Yet, it would have given policy oversight with accountability, since it would have resided in a Cabinet Department.

This is just the opposite of the post-September 11 creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) under the Central Intelligence Agency. Said to be a fusion center of information, the TTIC has no policy accountability. Sources also report a continuing culture clash at the TTIC between CIA’s information collection and the FBI’s goal to seek prosecutions. Neither entity allows unfettered access of the other to its information to get a complete picture of an issue.

Informed sources say this problem continues despite the catastrophe of September 11. It also reflects a culture clash evident prior to September 11 when the two agencies were at the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters.

Given its small staff then, the CTC never was designed to fuse data from law enforcement with intelligence. Indeed, it was geared more toward developing operational plans to counter terrorist activity overseas.

Consequently, the CTC configuration minimized any timely integration of law enforcement information with CIA data.

The continuing culture clash between CIA and FBI has no better illustration than in dealings with the Iranian- and Syrian-backed terrorist group, Hezbollah.

The CIA’s job is to develop information about the terrorist group. CIA information on the head of Hezbollah’s terrorist element, Imad Mughniyeh, may not be shared with the FBI.

Why? The FBI seeks to prosecute Mughniyeh and has offered a multimillion-dollar reward for him. Were he arrested, it could close down information channels the CIA developed over time.

Mughniyeh, a Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim, was indicted by the United States in 1985 for the hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. He also is suspected as a principal in the 1984 Beirut kidnapping murder of CIA station chief William Buckley, as well as suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and a U.S. Marine barracks, killing about 300 people.

Creation of the national collaborative center did not require the massive reorganization that occurred after September 11, 2001, with creation of the Department of Homeland Security. While this brought together all law enforcement agencies, the politics behind its creation continues to keep intelligence community information separate. It also still does not necessarily provide access to all-source information to handle a problem, particularly published references.

Before September 11, for example, a member of this writer’s staff found a published story of Mullah Omar Bakri Mohammed, claiming al Qaeda was training “Kamikazes.” Mullah Bakri’s interview with an Italian newspaper was given in October 2000.

The staff person sought to bring this published information to the FBI’s attention but repeatedly was put off. Finally, he was given an appointment two weeks from the time he sought to meet with the FBI — September 12, 2001.

If data mining under Mr. Weldon’s national collaborative center concept had gone into effect when he first introduced it in 1999, this open source information could have been combined with the FBI’s investigative work of following Saudis and suspected terrorists attending U.S. flight schools.

Also, the CIA had information prior to September 11 that two known suspected Islamic militants, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, had flown to San Diego, Calif. However, the FBI was not informed. The two known militants, who would hijack American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, received help from an FBI informant who found them an apartment and a second FBI asset who later rented them a room in his own home.

Indeed, the CIA in March 1999 received from German officials the first name and phone number of another Islamic militant, Marwan al-Shehhi, a roommate of Mohamed Atta. Al-Shehhi piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Atta flew American Airlines Flight 11.

For unknown reasons, the CIA never followed up with him, thereby missing a potential opportunity to penetrate al Qaeda in Hamburg, Germany. Al-Shehhi later was to arrive in the United States to attend flight school. Here, too, the CIA never passed information on to the FBI.

Had there been a national collaborative center to combine all this information, along with the spike in intelligence on threats at the time, it well resulted in an entirely different outcome on September 11, 2001.

Use of intelligence and law enforcement information can be made more effective with the stroke of the presidential pen. An Executive Order could make the national collaborative center a tool of the National Security Council, with a Cabinet-level department, such as the Defense Department, as its executive agent. That would increase transparency and accountability.

However, vested bureaucratic interests of those elements in law enforcement and the intelligence community may continue opposing such a creation. Apparently, when institutional interests conflict with the national interest, the former prevail. We therefore need to prepare for a repetition of our past mistakes, probably at an even more terrible price than before.

F. Michael Maloof is a former senior policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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