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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism > Releases > Remarks > 2004

The 9/11 Commission: Towards a Paradigm for Homeland Security Information Sharing

Ambassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Testimony Before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security
Washington, DC
August 17, 2004

(As prepared for delivery)

Chairman Cox, Distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to reorganize the national security institutions of the U.S. Government to better combat terrorism. In light of the testimony you will hear from my co-panelists and other witnesses, I will keep my remarks brief.

Following the September 11 attacks, the Administration developed the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, which outlined the policy framework for coordinated actions to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its friends around the world. Our work to implement the National Strategy will ultimately create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them. We have implemented this strategy to act simultaneously on four fronts:

  • Defeat terrorist organizations of global reach by attacking their sanctuaries, leadership, finances, and command, control and communications;

  • Deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by cooperating with other states to take action against these international threats; 

  • Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit by enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on the areas most at risk; and

  • Defend the United States, its citizens, and interests at home and abroad.

Todayís hearing offers an opportunity to examine the 9/11 Commissionís recommendations on information and intelligence sharing. I welcome the invitation to contribute to this important national debate on how better to protect American citizens at home and abroad. The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism is premised on five key elements of national security -- diplomatic, financial, law enforcement, military, and, as we will discuss today, intelligence and information sharing.

Intelligence Analysis and Information Sharing

When discussing ways to improve information and intelligence sharing for counterterrorism, it is important to consider the foundation upon which we must build, in this case, the elements of intelligence analysis in place at the Department of State. The Departmentís Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) is one of the 15 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. My colleagues in INR share my opinion that we need to do much more to make it easy, not just possible, to share information across agencies, with state and local officials and with our foreign allies. This is especially important to the State Department because widespread, timely, and routine information sharing facilitates decentralized and competitive intelligence analysis crucial to our mission. My office also works closely with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), which focuses specifically on threats against U.S. interests, to assess the current intelligence information on terrorist threats overseas and at home.

We also agree with the 9/11 Commissionís recommendation to move from a system based on "need-to-know" to one based "need-to-share," consistent, of course, with the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to "safeguard the privacy of individuals about whom information is shared." Mechanisms for separating content from source information could help with classification levels. This is already accomplished to a certain extent with tear lines. Web-based systems will undeniably be part of the solution, given the ubiquitous nature of this technology. By following the progression of technology advances in the open market, information sharing can be made technologically easier and less cumbersome.

The Counterterrorism Security Group

Intelligence sharing within the Department and with other agencies was a reality before September 11, but it has since improved. Deepening our intelligence sharing through personnel liaison, we have provided the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), among others, with State Department detailees, and we host detailees from the CIA and other agencies as well. In addition to the intelligence analysis work of INR and DS/ITA, S/CT and the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security participate in the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG). The CSG is chaired by the National Security Council and serves to share information and coordinate the response to terrorist threats against U.S. interests domestically and abroad. Each morning we join the NSC-chaired meeting of high-level representatives from the Homeland Security Council, the Departments of Defense, Justice, Treasury, and Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, and TTIC. A staff-level meeting of CSG participants is conducted every afternoon.

Within the CSG structure, the Department has frequent and direct interactions with the other senior interagency officials who shape and direct the counterterrorism policies of the U.S. Government. Through these relationships, we have ample opportunity to provide input to the U.S. Government process for collecting and analyzing intelligence for counterterrorism purposes. The quality of information exchange and effectiveness has improved significantly since 9/11 partly because the CSG mechanism promotes proper coordination among agencies regarding terrorist threats globally on a daily basis.

Other Department Contributions to Information Sharing

Since 9/11, the Department of Stateís Bureau of Consular Affairs has worked with other agencies to make significant improvements to our ability to share information. Thanks to this new level of collaboration, the data holdings in the Departmentís consular lookout system now total almost 18 million records on people potentially ineligible to receive visas, nearly triple what we had prior to September 11. We now have more than eight million records from the FBI alone in our system. In fact, the majority of the data in the consular lookout system now derives from other agencies, especially those in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Information sharing, of course, must be mutual.

The Department now provides access to 75 million visa records in our consular database so that Department of Homeland Security officers at ports of entry can view the electronic files of every passenger with a visa entering the United States. This database permits detailed examination of the information in near-real time for all visas issued, including the photographs of nonimmigrant visa applicants. We are also sharing our consular database with the National Targeting Center, a 24/7 operation of Customs and Border Protection in DHS.

The Department of State joined in the establishment of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), which integrates terrorist watchlists and serves as the centralized point of contact for everyone from the U.S. police officer on the beat to the consular officer in the farthest reaches of the globe. Together with TTIC, which maintains the principal database on known and suspected international terrorists in a highly classified form, we rely on the TSC to ensure that consular officers have access to the information they need to scrutinize applications and deny visas to those who would do us harm. These institutions rest on a foundation that the Department laid in the form of TIPOFF, a pioneering system in the use of classified information for screening purposes. Much of the cost of developing and operating TIPOFF was funded through the Border Security Program, which the Bureau of Consular Affairs manages for the Department. The TIPOFF database with its approximately 120,000 records, more than double the amount since September 11, is now housed at TTIC. TTIC and TSC together eliminate the stove-piping of terrorist data and provide a more systematic approach to posting lookouts on potential and known terrorists.

Conclusion

The President indicated in his speech on August 2nd support for the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including the establishment of a National Intelligence Director and a National Counterterrorism Center. The Department of State will play a crucial role in the Presidentís plan to implement reforms that will make Americans safer at home and abroad. I personally look forward to the role that the Department and my office will play in this process, through the intra- and interdepartmental relationships briefly outlined in my testimony today.

With this background and experience in mind, I will conclude my formal testimony. Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the Committee. I would be happy to take your questions.


Released on August 24, 2004

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