- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

When terrorists strike overseas, or when U.S. agencies get other intelligence about their intentions and capacities, it is the job of a new Department of Homeland Security analysis unit to interpret and share it, not just with law enforcement, but with private-sector companies that might be threatened.

“We do look at everything that occurs overseas” in terms of terrorist attacks, said Melissa Smislova, head of the department’s Homeland Infrastructure Threat Reporting and Analysis Center, or HITRAC.

After insurgents in Iraq incorporated canisters of chlorine gas into a truck bomb recently in the hopes of increasing its lethality, the center, working with the FBI, penned what officials call a “Joint Homeland Security Assessment” that was sent to state and local officials and private-sector security professionals.

“We push out anything new or different in terms of tactics, whether it’s attacks recruitment patterns,” said Miss Smislova.

Miss Smislova would not comment on the contents of the assessment, which are classified “For Official Use Only,” but said it was widely distributed to both public-sector and private-sector officials.

“We write many of these jointly with the FBI,” she said, adding that the joint authorship is designed to “reach a broader audience with a consistent message.”

She also said the FBI had more law-enforcement contacts in its distribution base, which complemented the private sector and state and local non-police agencies that are served by Homeland Security.

In the past, the department and other agencies have been criticized for providing conflicting or inconsistent information about terrorist threats, and HITRAC is the latest incarnation of a troubled function at Homeland Security.

HITRAC’s role — marrying information about terrorist intentions and capabilities with data about the vulnerabilities of U.S. infrastructure, such as transportation or telecommunications systems — has been seen since even before September 11 as a vital task in protecting the United States from terrorism. When the Department of Homeland Security was founded in March 2003, it was seen as one its most important new roles.

But HITRAC is at least the third attempt to set up a structure to carry out the duties.

“We’ve been chasing our tail on this for more than a decade,” said former senior Homeland Security intelligence official John Rollins, pointing out that HITRAC’s predecessor at the department, the now-dismantled Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate, had been designed to mirror an earlier, FBI-led initiative, the National Infrastructure Protection Center.

“They’re doing the best they can,” Mr. Rollins said of the officials at HITRAC, “given the lack of support they’re getting” from departmental leaders.

Mr. Rollins, now an analyst at the Congressional Research Service, said one problem for the center was that “there’s just not that much specific credible intelligence about intentions and capabilities.”

He added that he is “not sure if is being conveyed back to in as timely and complete a manner as they’d like.”

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