WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday applauded a more robust culture of information sharing among federal, state and local officials than existed a decade ago and vowed to continue working to eliminate remaining barriers.
At a Committee hearing assessing progress made in information sharing among the law enforcement and intelligence community, witnesses agreed that while the pre 9/11 obstacles to information sharing have largely been eliminated, several key challenges remain, including clarifying intelligence agencies' policies with respect to U.S. citizens and maintaining funding for activities that support state and local information sharing, including fusion centers.
“Just yesterday, we witnessed the stunning outcome of brilliant information sharing when the Department of Justice announced it had uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States here in the United States,” Lieberman said. “This is just an example of how barriers to information sharing have been taken down, significantly improving the quality and quantity of information. We have seen this, not just yesterday, but in game-changing military and counterterrorism successes, such as the military operations that killed Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki.
“So, we have built a strong foundation but we aren’t finished building the complete structure.”
Witnesses at the hearing were: John McLaughlin, former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence; Thomas McNamara, former Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment; D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier; Ronald Brooks, Director of the Northern California fusion center, and Jeffrey Smith, former General Counsel of the CIA.
Several witnesses touched on the need to address privacy concerns. McLaughlin noted that fear of violating rules protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens can lead intelligence agents to err on the side of not pursuing questionable intelligence. Lieberman said this needs to be resolved, given the increased numbers of Americans engaged in homegrown terrorism over the past few years.
Witnesses also discussed the role of state and local law enforcement in information sharing. Chief Lanier highlighted how information was effectively shared and used during the recent threat to New York City and Washington, DC around the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Brooks also implored the Senate not to cut funding for fusion centers, such as the one he runs in northern California. He told the Committee that fusion centers have a distinct and complementary role to the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Lieberman and Collins agreed.
Witnesses also commented on the President's new Executive Order on Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information, noting that this Order was a positive and necessary response to Wikileaks' disclosures of classified information.