- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

For more than four months there have been no military intelligence representatives in the 24-hour operations room at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) — the hub of federal efforts to share real-time terrorist threat information among government agencies.

Three representatives from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) were withdrawn from the operations center in November, according to NCTC spokesman Carl Kropf. A representative of Northern Command, or Northcom, the U.S. military command responsible for defending the continental United States, was withdrawn earlier, he told United Press International.

“It was the [DIA] director’s decision,” Mr. Kropf said.

No one at the agency was able to provide an explanation for the director’s decision.

“The mission [of the Northcom assignee] was changed and … the individual was withdrawn,” Northcom spokesman Sean Kelly said, adding that the officer is currently based at the DIA.

Mr. Kropf played down the effect of the move and said efforts to get the officials back on station continue.

“One will start back in the next few weeks, the others we hope by the end of April,” he said. “It’s not like the information flow has ceased. We are still in touch with them on a minute-by-minute basis.”

But some observers are concerned.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the situation “unacceptable.”

He said at a committee hearing March 8 that the officials had been withdrawn “because Northcom and the Defense Intelligence Agency found that it was just too hard to get information and cooperation from the NCTC.”

The center, and the Information Sharing Environment of which it is a part, were mandated by Congress in 2004 as part of an intelligence reform law aimed at preventing a repetition of pre-September 11 intelligence failures.

But the vision of a seamless network of networks has bumped up against the reality of complex and overlapping rules and regulations governing the ways different agencies can acquire and use information, especially about Americans.

In prepared testimony for the March hearing, Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor Renuart, who assumed command of Northcom on March 23, said intelligence officers from the command’s headquarters continue to participate in a daily video conference held by the NCTC operations center.

Gen. Renuart said his command was working with Central Command, which runs military operations in the Middle East — including Iraq and Afghanistan — and the DIA “in an NCTC process-improvement initiative to optimize the information-sharing environment.”

He said the officer assigned to the center would return there “after the successful completion of the process improvement initiative … which will determine his new duties.”

John Rollins, an analyst at the Congressional Research Service who follows information-sharing issues, said the problem is the restrictive rules and procedures governing intelligence officers assigned to the NCTC.

“When someone is assigned to NCTC, they sign [an agreement] outlining the rules of the road,” he said. “Individuals cannot provide information back to their parent agencies or departments without prior clearance from senior NCTC leadership.”

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