On Point: Homeland Security: Disseminating the Information, No Easy Task

by Austin Bay
Aug 1, 2002

The Dept of Homeland Security had better hire geniuses to workthe switchboards.

Over 180 federal agencies play a role in homeland security. Fromthe Department of Agriculture to the Department of Transportation, lines ofauthority, responsibility and communication blend, blur and sometimes break.

The clash and cooperation of cops (FBI) and spies (CIA) is onlyone of many jurisdictional battles Homeland Security must manage. Cops andcops also grate along jurisdictional lines -- the FBI with the SecretService, for example.

Collecting, analyzing and sharing intelligence information ishard enough within the FBI, but disseminating it to the appropriateauthority or agency, in a timely fashion, can be like rolling a marblethrough a maze. Creating the Department of Homeland Security is an attemptto 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 domesticsecurity cooperation. Legitimate jurisdictional issues and blurredbureaucratic boundaries, however, aren't unique to the federal government.

Commissioner Bob Hightower directs Georgia's Department ofPublic Safety (DPS). "In Georgia, we have 159 counties, all with sheriffsdepartments, and over 500 other local law-enforcement agencies," Hightowersaid. "(At Georgia DPS), we're dealing with all of them to improve homelandsecurity. It's a work in progress."

Georgia's work in progress includes the Georgia InformationSharing and Analysis Center, located one floor above the FBI Joint TerrorismTask Force's Atlanta office.

"Our ultimate goal is to data link every police station in thestate," Hightower added. "The locals won't get everything (we have), butthey'll get everything they need to know about their area. ... It'sdifferent than law-enforcement intel in past, where a lot of that info wassquirreled away. This data will be shared. There hasn't been a need for thiskind of data-exchange system before. If you go back a few years, there wereno software companies in this country that designed software for 911(emergency) centers. Early on, there was no big market. That market expandedas 911 centers across the country popped up. You ought to look at some ofthe software today. This is a similar situation, I think (with homelandsecurity data sharing). I don't only think it's possible we'll succeed, Ithink it's probable."

Other states are tackling the same problem. Texas Gov. RickPerry 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 nowsubstantially less of a problem. The (Texas) Department of Public Safety,Texas' Department of Transportation have communications networks that aremore coordinated today than six months ago. But information flow isn't justgovernment bringing it down. It has to go up, too. Private citizens seesomething out of the ordinary, they must contact the appropriate governmentofficial and flow it up (for assessment and action)."

Perry agreed that knowing what needs to be done and doing it inthe aftermath of a terror attack are very different, but he disputed criticswho say state and federal agencies are clueless: "Texas, other states, haveexperience with (responding to) natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, as amodel for responding to an a terror attack." Disaster response requiresmulti-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 HomelandSecurity's "intelligence fusion cell" and its "fusion switchboard" (means ofacquiring 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 gettingtheir 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 -- whoknow how to connect complex and time-critical conference calls.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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