WASHINGTON, DC—A new report released today by the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security recommends that a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rather than the FBI should take the lead in shaping domestic information and intelligence priorities to inform policymakers.
The report calls for a networked information technology system that effectively shares information among local, state, regional and federal agencies and the private sector, and sets forth a blueprint for how such a system can be established under a set of Presidential guidelines.
“Today’s information technology allows us to use the power of widely distributed information to protect Americans against terrorist threats,” Task Force co-chairs Zoë Baird and James Barksdale said. “America will make a mistake if we create a centralized ‘mainframe’ information architecture focused on the nation’s capital when the intelligence and other information critical to homeland security need to be shared and coordinated across the country and around the world.”
As the 9/11 stories illustrate, most information gathering is done by people who are far removed from Washington. The people on the frontlines are at the local level: the police officer hearing a complaint from a landlord; an airport official who hears about a plane a pilot trainee left on a runway; an FBI agent puzzled by an odd flight school student in Arizona; or an emergency room resident treating a strange ailment. The report argues that because of the nature of new terrorist threats, it is necessary to create a more horizontal, cooperative, and fluid process for intelligence collection, sharing and analysis.
“The U.S. has to develop a sophisticated and integrated information network to protect Americans from attacks at home,” said Philip Zelikow, Executive Director of The Task Force, which includes experts who served in the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations as well as those from the private sector and the academy. “We need a new national strategy that is networked and transforms intelligence institutions, uses guidelines to balance privacy with security, and uses the best practices from the private sector.”
The Task Force, composed of leading experts in national security, information technology, and legal and privacy issues, argues that the Department of Justice and its FBI should be the lead agencies for law enforcement, exercising the power to investigate crimes, charge people with crimes, and prepare cases for trial and appeal. The report argues that DHS should be the lead agency shaping domestic information to inform policymakers and set broad priorities for collecting information.
The Task Force notes that criminal investigation (and counterintelligence) often overlaps with intelligence work, and that overlap will enhance our knowledge. But it concludes that the case for a fundamental separation of law enforcement from the responsibility of providing information to policymakers is strong.
The report argues that those running criminal investigations and who hold the arrest power—the greatest power to deprive someone of his or her liberties—should not be the same people who will be seeking all kinds of domestic information from local officials and business firms throughout the nation and using that information in databases. Nor should the intelligence analysts be the people who will be preparing cases prosecutors must present in court-the very problem recently cited by the federal court that oversees FBI foreign intelligence surveillance wiretaps.
Under the scenario outlined in the report, the FBI would continue to have responsibility for managing clandestine collection operations inside the United States, like FISA wiretaps or the recruitment of undercover agents, under the supervision of the Attorney General.
The Task Force report, entitled Protecting America’s Freedom in the Information Age, offers specific recommendations on how the government can develop information collection and analysis capabilities while also protecting the civil liberties of our citizens.
The Task Force examined highly successful regional initiatives from around the county, for example in Utah, Texas and California, where local and state homeland security efforts provide models for a national system.
According to the report, the federal government is planning to spend $40 billion annually to protect the homeland, much of which will be used for new information technologies. Yet not enough of these dollars have been allocated to share and analyze information.
Striking a balance between privacy and security is also a major concern of the Task Force. In using watch-out lists and other public and private databases, the Task Force calls on the President to create guidelines that could be used by agencies—from federal to local—as a guide on how to balance privacy and security. The report calls for the authorization of the scope of domestic information collection and analysis to be carefully defined.
The report found that one idea that would prove helpful to national security is the concept of a “gate” with a virtual watch-out list. The report did not recommend merging all of the 12 or more watch-out lists that are currently maintained by the federal government, but it did recommend the creation of “virtual” consolidated watch-out lists. The Department of Homeland Security, or an agency with its functions, the report said, should be able to pass names across the various lists to check for “hits” without actually building a data warehouse of its own.
Additionally, the report found that research and development in information technology within government has been insufficiently productive. It endorsed a proposal by the National Academy of Sciences’ committee on technology and terrorism to create an Institute or similar institution that would provide government with advice and assistance on a range of issues from private sector experts. Such a Homeland Security Research Institute would have the ability to provide a wide variety of R & D needs and would be interdisciplinary in scope.
In conjunction with the release of the report today, the Task Force hosted a policy discussion at the National Press Club at 9:30 am that focused on how government leaders should harness and integrate domestic information to enhance national security.
Participating in the discussion, which was moderated by CNN anchor Frank Sesno, were the following Task Force members: Co-chairs Zoë Baird and James Barksdale; Philip Zelikow, Executive Director of the Task Force; Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt; William Crowell, former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency; Esther Dyson of EDventure Holdings; and Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age is a diverse and bipartisan group of former policy makers from the past six presidential administrations, senior information technology executives, and privacy advocates from both the public and private sectors. The Markle Task Force has recommended ways of improving national security decisions by transforming business processes and how information is shared. Its recommendations informed the 9/11 Commission Report and were subsequently included in two federal laws. Learn more about the Markle Task Force at www.markle.org/national-security.