WASHINGTON – The federal government has made limited progress in improving how it gathers, shares and responds to information that could prevent terrorist attacks, says a new report by technology and intelligence experts.
In a report released Tuesday by the Markle Foundation (search), the experts said "sharing of terrorist-related information between relevant agencies at different levels of government has been only marginally improved in the last year."
They added that sharing "remains haphazard and still overly dependent on ... personal relations among known colleagues."
The Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age (search), which wrote the report, advocates creation of a decentralized information network to spread information about terror threats while safeguarding against violations of civil liberties.
The panel is overseen by the Markle Foundation, a private philanthropic organization. The experts proposed building an information network, called the Systemwide Homeland Analysis and Response Exchange (search), or SHARE.
They said the network would be loosely structured, so information would flow freely. There also would be redundancy, to increase the chances that important information is acted upon, along with encryption, auditing and access controls to guarantee security.
The organization said such a system would allow an FBI agent with a hunch to locate other people at the federal, state or local level, or in the private sector.
"This is a way of doing business that says the priority for information should be its distribution, not its control," Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, said in an interview Monday.
Baird, a former Justice Department and White House attorney, directs the task force with James Barksdale, co-founder of Netscape Communications.
The panel of academics, civil libertarians and former U.S. intelligence officials also includes former Gen. Wesley Clark (search), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and Philip Zelikow, executive director of the federal commission studying the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In its first report, released October 2002, the task force said primary responsibility for analyzing terrorism threats should move from the FBI to the Homeland Security Department (search), which opened in March.
As it turned out, the FBI maintained much of its authority in the revised intelligence structure. But Baird said which agency is in charge is less important than how well it shares information.
The government's methods of collecting and disseminating sensitive information emerged as a key issue after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Bush administration created a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to bring together information gathered by the CIA, FBI and other agencies.
The Markle task force says there is confusion about the respective roles of the center and Homeland Security Department. And neither entity has put in place "the necessary staff or framework for analyzing information and sharing it broadly," the report says.
The report urges President Bush to issue an executive order endorsing a decentralized information network.