U.S. federal agencies tasked with preventing terror attacks have improved their ability to share counterterrorism information, but additional steps can be taken to increase the dissemination of intelligence reports and to make information sharing more efficient, according to a new watchdog report.
In response to requests from three Senate committees, inspectors general from the Justice Department, the Intelligence Community and the Department of Homeland Security reviewed information-sharing efforts among federal entities to determine if counterterrorism intelligence is being adequately gathered and shared and to identify gaps or duplication of those efforts.
A report issued Friday highlights 23 areas where improvements could be made to make information sharing more efficient — including by providing better guidance on how agents from the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis could create and share reports from the field without hindering FBI agents’ efforts.
Noting DHS responsibilities, including overseeing security at borders and airports, the report highlights that “DHS has unique access to information about travelers, including known or suspected terrorists, and is well-situated to intercept and identify travel by potential terrorists and foreign fighters.”
But the report notes that “none of the [Intelligence and Analysis] field officials with whom DHS OIG spoke said they regularly develop intelligence reports from terrorism and counterterrorism information.”
Fulfilling these responsibilities can create tension between the FBI and Intelligence and Analysis agents because intelligence reports go to the intelligence community while information that contributes to a criminal investigation is generally not shared widely beyond the scope of the team investigating the case, the report notes.
As a result of Intelligence and Analysis agents’ hesitance to draft reports and their believing they need permissions from FBI field offices to do so, “about 43 percent of the [Intelligence and Analysis] field officials interviewed said they no longer try to report on terrorism and counterterrorism information and 21 percent have developed ad hoc arrangements with their respective FBI field office regarding reporting in general.”
The report recommends that the agencies develop guidance for intelligence reporting in the field and coordinate with the FBI to formalize guidance and policies for the reporting of terrorism and counterterrorism information.
In a written response to the recommendations, the DHS officials said Intelligence and Analysis agents were collaborating with the FBI to devise guidance on how to draft terrorism watch list intelligence information reports. DHS also noted that the FBI and intelligence agents regularly meet and communicate in other ways.
Among other findings, the inspectors general report raises concern about agencies’ routine absences from joint terrorism task force meetings, and that the geographic size of areas overseen by local representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence may hamper communication and oversight.
A review of Joint Terrorism Task Force executive board meetings found that 39 percent of the 133 agencies represented on the board did not attend meetings at least half the time.
In a written response, FBI officials said they would work to encourage representatives from the relevant agencies to more regularly attend board meetings.
Officials from the DNI did not agree with recommendations that they change the geographic size of regions overseen by local representatives, saying a decrease in the region size could lead to duplicate intelligence gathering and increase travel costs.