by Austin Bay
Aug 1, 2002
The Dept of Homeland Security had better hire geniuses to work
Over 180 federal agencies play a role in homeland security. From
the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Transportation, lines of
authority, responsibility and communication blend, blur and sometimes break.
The clash and cooperation of cops (FBI) and spies (CIA) is only
one of many jurisdictional battles Homeland Security must manage. Cops and
cops also grate along jurisdictional lines -- the FBI with the Secret
Service, for example.
Collecting, analyzing and sharing intelligence information is
hard enough within the FBI, but disseminating it to the appropriate
authority or agency, in a timely fashion, can be like rolling a marble
through a maze. Creating the Department of Homeland Security is an attempt
to get the marble out of the maze and on a comparatively straight track. The
"switchboard" directing the marble is critical.
Federal reorganization to minimize bureaucratic hierarchy,
layers and other institutional impediments will improve interagency domestic
security cooperation. Legitimate jurisdictional issues and blurred
bureaucratic boundaries, however, aren't unique to the federal government.
Commissioner Bob Hightower directs Georgia's Department of
Public Safety (DPS). "In Georgia, we have 159 counties, all with sheriffs
departments, and over 500 other local law-enforcement agencies," Hightower
said. "(At Georgia DPS), we're dealing with all of them to improve homeland
security. It's a work in progress."
Georgia's work in progress includes the Georgia Information
Sharing and Analysis Center, located one floor above the FBI Joint Terrorism
Task Force's Atlanta office.
"Our ultimate goal is to data link every police station in the
state," Hightower added. "The locals won't get everything (we have), but
they'll get everything they need to know about their area. ... It's
different than law-enforcement intel in past, where a lot of that info was
squirreled away. This data will be shared. There hasn't been a need for this
kind of data-exchange system before. If you go back a few years, there were
no software companies in this country that designed software for 911
(emergency) centers. Early on, there was no big market. That market expanded
as 911 centers across the country popped up. You ought to look at some of
the software today. This is a similar situation, I think (with homeland
security data sharing). I don't only think it's possible we'll succeed, I
think it's probable."
Other states are tackling the same problem. Texas Gov. Rick
Perry told me: "After 9-11, we discovered we didn't have the open lines of
(emergency and intelligence) communication we have to have, but it's now
substantially less of a problem. The (Texas) Department of Public Safety,
Texas' Department of Transportation have communications networks that are
more coordinated today than six months ago. But information flow isn't just
government bringing it down. It has to go up, too. Private citizens see
something out of the ordinary, they must contact the appropriate government
official and flow it up (for assessment and action)."
Perry agreed that knowing what needs to be done and doing it in
the aftermath of a terror attack are very different, but he disputed critics
who say state and federal agencies are clueless: "Texas, other states, have
experience with (responding to) natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, as a
model for responding to an a terror attack." Disaster response requires
multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional cooperation and information sharing,
as well as the cooperation of citizens. "We've done it," Perry argued.
Intelligence and timely use of that intelligence, however,
remain the critical elements. This makes the Department of Homeland
Security's "intelligence fusion cell" and its "fusion switchboard" (means of
acquiring data and disseminating the intel) the department's Job One.
Complex? The implementation and integration tasks are immense.
Getting agency leaders to agree to cooperate will be easier than getting
their agencies to use the same computer programs.
Effective homeland security isn't simply smart spies and cops.
It requires switchboard operators -- and very able computer jockeys -- who
know how to connect complex and time-critical conference calls.