- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The September 11 commission called for naming a “National Intelligence Director” or “NID,” responsible for coordinating the disparate activities of the many government agencies and organizations that, collectively, failed to discover and prevent the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Congress, not the Executive Branch, will face the most painful readjustment of jurisdictional authority to truly empower a NID, or to “deconstruct” the intelligence community, as was suggested recently by Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. The reason is most of the money for running the intelligence community is spent by the Defense Department — so, the program, budget and oversight authority for this activity will effectively have to be taken from the Armed Services and related Appropriations Committees and given to other committees. This is unlikely.

Recognizing these facts, the president issued three Executive Orders last Friday. The first “empowers” the DCI to the maximum extent under current law. The White House also said Friday it also would “work with Congress” to further enhance the DCI’s power and authority, but this recognizes Congress must make basic committee jurisdictional changes if it wants to truly empower a DCI or a new NID.

The second Executive Order establishes the “National Counter-Terrorism Center,” another September 11 commission recommendations. This Order “scoops” the Hill since, though Congress has authority to legislate this kind of organizational change — again, due to committee turf disputes over program and budget control — it may simply be unable to do so.

It is the third Executive Order (“Strengthening the Sharing of Terrorism Information”) that offers the greatest potential for real change in how we fight terrorism, because it empowers a new way to think about, define, assemble and use all the different kinds and categories of threat relevant information.

Here’s why this is so critically important: Four essential conclusions can be drawn from the September 11 panel report.

• We didn’t have, at a meaningful federal level, much of the key threat-relevant information on the September 11 attack.

• Much of that key information was not “intelligence” as we are accustomed to thinking about it.

• We weren’t aware of the significance of much of the information (whether intelligence or not) that we had.

• And we didn’t share the information (whether intelligence or not) we had between federal intelligence agencies and organizations, let alone with various and essential state and local agencies.

To “fix” this, we had to scrap our essentially Cold War, intelligencecentric, national security information system in favor of one much better suited to address the terrorism threat — the Executive Order is an important step in this direction.

Defined simply as “all information … relating to” the activities of foreign, international or “transnational” terrorists or terrorism, this new category of information also could be made available to virtually any agency or department, federal, state or local, that had a legitimate requirement for the information — whether a “traditional” intelligence or law enforcement agency or not.

But, who determines — and how do they do so — what information is “related to” the current terrorist threat?

This is not specifically addressed in the new Executive Order, but the best way would be an efficient, networked process, between the DCI or successor, the secretary of homeland security, the defense secretary and the attorney general, to define and articulate the specific categories of terrorist threat related information. There could be congressional reporting for this process.

Why such a high-level decision, approval process and congressional oversight for simply determining a generic category of information relating to the terrorism threat?

One word: Privacy.

Some of the categories of threat relevant information could be made up of mostly “U.S. person” related information, so it would be critical, not only to limit the number and size of these categories, but to render this information “anonymous” at first intake — or use — and to further ensure it was not accumulated into some super data base that threatened privacy. And, there should be another internal process required for actually using specific U.S. Person identity information — this process could also be reportable to Congress.

Meantime, the president’s Executive Order on sharing terrorism information is both a bold and essential fix. It is this new way to define and more effectively use all the information we have related to the terrorist threat — not just a reorganization in the intelligence community — that will best enable us to discover and prevent the next attack on the United States.

We should protect our privacy at the same time.

Daniel J. Gallington is a senior research fellow at Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington and directs Project Guardian studies of technology vs. privacy in the war on terror. He is a former deputy assistant defense secretary for territorial security, Senate Intelligence Committee general counsel and Justice Department deputy counsel for intelligence policy.

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