Sunday, October 23, 2005

More than 2 years after it was set up, the Department of Homeland Security is still not close to integrating the 10 separate intelligence offices run by its 22 component agencies.

“We have some way to go before we have a truly unified intelligence enterprise and culture,” Charlie Allen, the department’s chief intelligence officer, said in an interview last week, after giving testimony about his new role to two House subcommittees.

Mr. Allen, a 47-year veteran CIA official, came out of a brief retirement three weeks ago to work as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s top intelligence adviser.

He also has the daunting tasks of defining the department’s role in the increasingly crowded field of U.S. intelligence agencies and managing the department’s eclectic collection of “nontraditional” intelligence-gathering operations, such as mapping trends in document forgery or other kinds of fraud by people trying to enter the country illegally.

Ten of the 22 agencies, departments and offices that were merged to form the department in March 2003 — including the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and the Transportation Security Administration — have intelligence operations of one kind or another.

The Border Patrol, for instance, has a small intelligence unit in each sector that analyzes data about gangs and others smuggling migrants across the border.

Officials in the department’s infrastructure protection office track and map sightings of suspicious or anomalous behavior at chemical plants and other potential terrorist targets, looking for patterns that might be signs of preparation for an attack.

Mr. Allen said the key issue was “how to bring together all these disparate components and the intelligence … that they collect on a daily basis.”

“They collect a lot of it,” he added, “but there’s a great amount of information that does not get fully disseminated or used as part of trends and patterns and threat streams.

“It is a huge and big, big problem for all of us, and it has not been done,” he concluded, adding that his predecessors had exhibited “a lack of real focus” on the issue.

His most recent predecessor, who left more than seven months ago, retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, disputed that.

“I don’t think that’s right,” he told United Press International. “We did make progress [on the integration issue], but it was progress from zero.”

Gen. Hughes said that in 2004, he had instituted regular monthly meetings of the 10 intelligence heads, a process that Mr. Allen said he will formalize as the Homeland Security Intelligence Council.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat, asked Mr. Allen how he could succeed in improving coordination and integration without budgetary and personnel authority over the 10 offices, which at the moment report to and are budgeted by the heads of their different home agencies within the department.

“I’m going to evaluate whether I need additional authorities,” Mr. Allen responded. “At this stage, I think I have the needed authority.”

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