- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2010

The media focus on the criminal indictment and Mirandization of the Detroit bombing suspect has raised an important point but obscured an even more critical one related to the war on terrorism. The suspected bomber should clearly have been held for more questioning. But more important is what the unseemly rush to indictment tells us about the overall, fundamental systemic failure that occurred.

What we see is a continued, persistent “turf war” culture that divides prosecuting agencies like the Department of Justice and the FBI on the one hand and the intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on the other — a divide that seems to have been aggravated by the creation of the ODNI and that resulted in the failure to screen the suspected bomber in the first place and then forfeited a treasure of intelligence from him about Yemen.

Even the most cursory review of the recent record will concern anyone worried about terrorism. Compare, for example, the bland report just released by the White House that all of the bureaucratic turf behavior and other barriers to information sharing that led to 9/11 have now “8 years later, largely been overcome,” with the blistering report issued just a year ago by the ODNI inspector general that data integration across the intelligence community (IC) has been a total failure.

The IG found, for example, that IC information systems are “largely disconnected and incompatible” and lacking any “standard architecture supporting the storage and retrieval of sensitive intelligence.” Moreover, found the IG, the “culture of protecting ‘turf’ remains a problem, and there are few if any consequences for failure to collaborate.”

More specifically, the IG concluded that “there is no overall IC strategy or leadership structure to drive collaboration among national intelligence agency and law enforcement organizations.” Here the IG also found that FBI collaboration with the IC is “hampered by frequent turnover within FBI senior ranks and by outdated IT systems.”

Bearing in mind that the FBI manages the Terrorism Screening Center (TSC) and the watch lists, it is even more disturbing then to read the Justice Department’s inspector general’s report of just a few weeks ago that said the information system of the FBI is “severely outdated, cumbersome to use, and does not facilitate the searching and sharing of information.”

It was the responsibility of the ODNI to resolve all of these problems — but the creation of the ODNI has apparently only intensified the fragmentation. As the IG found, its review revealed that even within the ODNI “poor collaboration has resulted in ‘turf battles’ among some of the ODNI offices, causing information and activities to be ‘stove piped.’”

Congress and the White House would have been better served after 9/11 to put a whip-cracking entity in the Executive Office of the President to beat the intelligence and prosecuting teams together rather than create another layer of competing agencies.

As a result, there is little coherence in the contradictory White House conclusions that (1) “information sharing does not appear to have contributed to this intelligence failure” because no one was “prevented” from accessing information but that (2) “information technology within the CT community did not sufficiently enable the correlation of data that would have enabled analysts to highlight the relevant threat information.” That is to say, no one was “prevented” from accessing relevant information, but no one was “enabled” to do it either.

The ODNI inspector general’s report followed an Aug. 21, 2008, investigation request from the chairman of the investigations and oversight subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. That request asked for an examination of what the chairman described as the ODNI’s “colossal failure” to update the ODNI’s terrorist intelligence database that provides the backbone of the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watch list.

Bridging the intelligence/prosecution divide, as urged more than a year ago by the ODNI inspector general, is obviously a difficult task, just as it was before 9/11. But the way forward is not to remove the inspector general just after he describes the divide, along with the related incompetence of both the ODNI and FBI.

Maybe the key to a solution is to ask first why the inspector general was fired and replaced with a Justice Department employee who appears to have done nothing in the year following to modernize the FBI’s information sharing in response to the IG’s criticism. The problem goes beyond trying to track just one terrorist; it fundamentally jeopardizes the government’s basic ability to grasp fully any of the threats it faces.

Who and what are they covering up? No doubt the congressional Armed Services, Intelligence, Homeland Security and Judiciary committees all think their own agency is in charge. But there is only one White House, and it will have to provide the missing coordination between the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Otherwise, each will continue to go its own way — prosecuting criminals on the one hand and fighting terrorists on the other — without truly collaborating to reduce risks to the public.

C. Boyden Gray is a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

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