- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Government investigators have panned the administration’s efforts to share vital counterterrorism information among the large number of federal agencies involved in protecting the U.S., an endeavor officials say is a litmus test of the success of the nation’s new intelligence czar.

“More than four years after [the September 11 terror attacks],” wrote investigators for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “the nation still lacks the government-wide policies and processes … for guiding and integrating the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information critical to protecting our homeland.”

Although “a large amount of terrorism information is already stored electronically” in various government data systems, the report released this week said, many officials with counterterrorism responsibilities “are not connected to these systems,” and the information they contain “about terrorists, their plans, and their activities is fragmentary.”

The deputy director of national intelligence, Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, one of the officials responsible for leading the Bush administration’s effort on sharing terrorism information, acknowledged that it would be a vital test of the shake-up that brought his office into being.

“Frankly, this is the pass/fail aspect of the legislation,” he said, referring to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which established the director of national intelligence (DNI) to manage the 16 U.S. spy agencies. “If we don’t get this right, all the other things become far less effective.”

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, the recently confirmed chief information officer for the director, said progress had been made, despite the recent departure of the official there in charge of the effort, which was highlighted by the GAO.

That official, John Russack, quit earlier this year, after complaints that his effort was hamstrung by turf struggles and bureaucratic inertia.

Gen. Meyerrose said Mr. Russack’s successor, former State Department official Thomas McNamara, was already at work. The general also said he had “reconfigured a portion” of his staff “to work directly in support” of the replacement.

Gen. Meyerrose said he had streamlined the plethora of management efforts aimed at promoting information sharing. He said he had found 123 committees or working groups dealing with the issue.

“We disbanded all of them,” he told reporters last week at a briefing at which officials talked about the first year of operation of the DNI office. He said he was using his authority over management and procurement matters to establish “a streamlined governance for overseeing all of the activities within the intelligence business associated with information technology, communications and information sharing.”

But other officials familiar with the effort pointed out that many of the serious challenges associated with sharing terrorism information relate to transferring it to organizations other than the 16 agencies that the director manages.

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