DoD Urged to 'Fundamentally Rethink' Homeland Security Info Sharing

The defense secretary should charter a study to "fundamentally rethink" how homeland security information is shared within the Pentagon and among other agencies, according to a Defense Science Board task force report.

The study should cover what information must be shared, as well as "which high-impact actions and programs are needed . . . in order to improve . . . [the Defense Department's] longstanding mission of protecting its own forces and critical infrastructures," the task force states.

The document, made public last week, is "volume II-B" of a study on homeland security roles and missions. It contains material that was provided last year as input for the task force, but does not necessarily "represent the consensus view" of the group.

In earlier volumes, the task force called for improvements in the Pentagon's collection of intelligence and better sharing of that data among government agencies. The summer study effort began in January 2003, when the task force was asked to examine how DOD will interact with other agencies in fulfilling homeland security responsibilities (Inside The Pentagon, Sept. 9, p14).

According to the latest volume, the task force subcommittee focusing on information sharing and analysis held six information-gathering sessions between February and July of 2003. At least 44 individuals representing an array of agencies provided input. The purpose of those interviews was to develop a general overview of key internal and external expectations of the Pentagon's information-sharing needs related to homeland security, the report states.

Most of those interviewed noted while DOD "has always had a homeland defense responsibility as part of its mission to protect and defend the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic, the new post-9/11 environment poses new homeland security-related challenges, and hence a need to rethink the information sharing requirements," the subcommittee report states.

This new environment, in which defense officials must conduct traditional homeland defense and civil support missions, requires DOD to fulfill new roles. Some of those roles and responsibilities have yet to be defined, and others are likely to change as security needs change, the task force found.

Four key issues emerged from the panel's interviews:

* Changing communities of shared mission. New players in homeland security with new missions, as well as existing entities with different priorities, leave roles, responsibilities and interfaces between agencies unresolved or immature.

* DOD and interagency misunderstanding of their roles. DOD generally is unclear on information sharing needed internally for its own core missions, and some DOD entities are unaware of department-held information needed by other agencies for homeland security. A lack of understanding of the potential support DOD may be asked to provide for homeland security has led some within the Pentagon to believe they face no information sharing challenges.

* Significant information sharing breakdowns. Anecdotal, yet potentially significant evidence suggests information sharing breakdowns exist in key homeland security fields, including threat reporting and support to U.S. Northern Command.

* Current sharing methods and processes are not scaleable and are inadequate for new security environment. Linear, hierarchical information flows and legacy databases contribute to an increasingly outmoded "push" system of information sharing. Complex networks of relationships that encourage horizontal information flow might be better.

In its report, the DSB task force subcommittee on information sharing said "a significant hurdle to reassessing information sharing" at the Pentagon lies in the differing views "on the nature of the problem." Specifically, three views surfaced during the briefing interviews.

The first view represents a belief that "no significant information-sharing problems exist." According to the report, individuals in this group indicated current methods of sharing information are adequate.

"To the extent that there are challenges posed by the new security environment, steps taken already have largely addressed these needs," the report states, characterizing this viewpoint. This group viewed any further information sharing study as unnecessary. Roughly 5 percent of those interviewed held this position, the report states.

For example, some of those interviewed said the establishment of NORTHCOM "is largely a non-DOD mission. They emphasized NORTHCOM is largely like any other combatant command, and that its creation does not cause any fundamentally new information sharing needs," at least from a DOD perspective.

"To the extent that challenges exist, they see the problem of information sharing to be primarily an intelligence analysis issue, and not an operational problem that impacts traditional DOD missions," the report notes.

About 25 percent of those interviewed by the information sharing panel fell into the second group, which expressed a belief that additional information sharing is needed, but "more of the same will suffice." This group acknowledged the emergence of "new players and partners" that need new types of information from both internal and external DOD sources.

"However, the group generally suggested that the incremental adjustment in what information is shared and how it is shared, since 9/11, is largely sufficient for DOD requirements," the report states.

The overwhelming majority of those interviewed by the information sharing subcommittee -- about 70 percent -- stated a "strong perception" that there are "homeland security-related information sharing breakdowns and problems with current methods of sharing," within DOD and with critical partners, "that can be resolved only through fundamental change."

The report includes three major recommendations the committee heard during the interviews.

First, DOD should clarify its needs "by determining its homeland security roles and missions through interagency dialogue." Although the Pentagon "will probably never be in the lead" on homeland security, DOD "will always participate under the direction of civilian authorities as part of a larger community that shares the mission for homeland security," the report states. Consequently, DOD must "define its supporting role, or other members of [the intelligence] community will define its role for it."

Next, the Pentagon must determine internal and interagency information sharing needs, according to sources advising the group. This suggestion includes determining what information is needed by the military, who needs that information and how they should obtain it.

Finally, defense officials should expedite the "creation of policy and doctrine on the role of homeland defense and civil support and how they relate to overall national homeland security." During the interviews, the panel heard that improved homeland security policy is needed to clarify what relationships are necessary inside the Pentagon and among other key agencies, the report states. Such policy might clarify NORTHCOM's role and mission, enhance a new culture reinforcing information sharing and transform the culture of data ownership into a culture of data stewardship.

The report also notes that "interviewees cited anecdotal evidence of instances where . . . DOD is experiencing suboptimal performance and conflicts between agencies that understand homeland security policy differently."

The report concluded by reflecting on comments made by Vice President Dick Cheney, who once warned that "the prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain," adding it is not a "matter of if, but when." Without improved information sharing within DOD and among new civilian agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, "mitigating another catastrophe will be more difficult and recovery will likely be impeded," the task force concluded.

Some of the findings and recommendations already have been discussed or addressed by defense officials, according to a draft of the Pentagon's "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support," dated Sept. 13.

The draft strategy cites five homeland defense intelligence objectives and identifies information sharing as an important capability.

"Together with domestic and international partners, DOD will integrate information collected from a wide range of sources," the draft strategy states, although how that integration will be accomplished is not specified.