Information Sharing in Security and Counterterrorism
September 16, 2011
This fall, the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program continues its second year-long series on information sharing in security and counterterrorism, sponsored by IBM. Previous events in the series examined the State Department’s evolving information sharing capabilities; the role of information sharing in federal, state, and local counterterrorism cooperation; and the emerging technologies utilized by the government and private sector. An upcoming roundtable discussion, featuring Wesley Wilson of the National Counterterrorism Center, will focus on the challenge of balancing information security with the necessity of sharing.
The intelligence failures that accompanied the September 11, 2001, attacks demonstrated a vital need to reform how government agencies interact and share information with one another. To successfully detect and defeat terrorist plots, analysts and investigators need access to a wide range of information. Government agencies across the spectrum have made great strides in the last 10 years, increasing both the quantity and quality of information flowing among them. Recent successes include the interdiction of several homegrown terrorist plots, including the arrests of a pair in Seattle planning to attack a military processing center and of Private First Class Naser Jason Abdo, a U.S. Army soldier plotting to replicate the 2009 Fort Hood attack. In both cases, information sharing between local and federal officials foiled the plots before they could come to fruition.
However, as the alleged WikiLeaks breach has demonstrated, information sharing can be a double-edged sword. Granting increased access to information, even to trusted individuals, can heighten the possibility of sensitive intelligence falling into the wrong hands. The volume and speed of information flowing among agencies has increased dramatically, yet the policies for ensuring that information flows only where appropriate have not kept pace. Kshemendra Paul, program manager of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), recently stated on Federal News Radio that now is the time for a “strategy refresh and a greater emphasis on responsible information sharing.” In its annual report to Congress, ISE outlined its vision, arguing that past efforts have been inconsistent and fragmented and stressing the need for standardized and comprehensive procedures to ensure that classified information is safeguarded. Government agencies, though they have built solid foundations for information sharing, will continue to face challenges until an appropriate balance is found between the need to share information and the need to secure it.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson is director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Brendan Zegers is a research intern with the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program. This commentary is part of the program’s second annual year-long series on information sharing in security and counterterrorism, sponsored by IBM.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2011 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.