Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday expressed concerns over the federal government’s failure to adopt government-wide procedures for designating and sharing “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) information within and among all levels of government.
The Senators, in a May 1, 2007 letter to several high-ranking federal officials, requested that the Administration move quickly to adopt and implement a consistent set of procedures for agencies to follow when handling SBU information. The Senators noted that different procedures for different agencies create confusion over which rules to follow when disseminating this sensitive information, often hampering information sharing, which can result in major gaps in intelligence.
A December 16, 2005 presidential directive instructed the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General to recommend a consistent set of procedures for handling SBU information within one year. The Senators, noting that this deadline has passed, asked about the status of those recommendations.
Text of the letter – sent to the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism – is below:
May 1, 2007
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff,
We are writing to request that the Administration move quickly to adopt and implement guidelines for the consolidation of sensitive but unclassified designations (SBU) identified by the Program Manger for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). We are very concerned about the threat that a lack of consistency in the use of SBU designations poses to the sharing of information, both among federal agencies and with our state, local, and tribal partners. To that end, we are seeking answers to specific questions related to the progress in standardizing these designations.
A March 2006 GAO report found 56 SBU designations in use by federal agencies, while the Program Manager for the ISE (PM ISE) estimates at least 107 such markings. To add to the confusion, there is no consistent set of rules and procedures for handling and disseminating this information. In fact, different agencies have substantially different policies for handling information marked with the same designation. We believe that when officials are confused as to the rules governing the dissemination of information, they often err on the side of not sharing.
Our first responders bear the brunt of this ineffective information sharing. When they are not provided with adequate intelligence, they are unable to properly train or equip their personnel to respond to emerging threats. To facilitate dissemination of pertinent and timely intelligence information to these first responders, the federal government must remove roadblocks erected because of the overuse and inconsistent application of SBU designations.
Recognizing the need to improve the consistency of SBU designations, the President directed the DNI and the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit recommendations for the standardization of SBU procedures. This requirement was part of a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies issued by the President on December 16, 2005. The memorandum, laying out the requirements for the information sharing environment, included five guidelines and two requirements. Guideline 3 is “to standardize procedures for sensitive but unclassified information.”
The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General were directed to recommend standardized “SBU procedures for homeland security information, law enforcement information, and terrorism information,” within 180 days of the date of the President’s memorandum. Within one year of the date of the memorandum, the DNI was directed to recommend standardized SBU procedures for all other types of information. These recommendations were to be submitted through the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
If we are to prevent future terrorist events and be better prepared to respond to such events, as well as natural disasters, there must be better information sharing between federal agencies and with our state, local, and tribal partners and the private sector. We believe that prompt attention to the standardization of SBU designations is essential to improving information sharing. To that end, we are seeking the following information:
• The office of the Program Manager for the ISE briefed our staff on the concept of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and their plan for consolidating SBU designations. This plan would fulfill the requirements of Guideline 3. If the CUI regime envisioned by the Program Manager is approved, will it be implemented for all types of information, including homeland security, law enforcement, and terrorism information?
• Based on the dates in the President’s memo, the recommendations for standardizing SBU designations are overdue. What is the status of these recommendations? When do you expect the adoption of recommendations? Once recommendations are adopted, when can we expect a plan for implementing them?
• Implementing the regime for standardizing SBU designations, once it is finalized, poses a significant challenge. What will be done to ensure that it is used exclusively by the agencies under your authority? How will you ensure its use by other agencies?
• Are there plans to order the re-labeling of SBU products? If not, what processes will you put in place for reviewing existing information to determine whether it should be shared?
Because distinct responsibilities are assigned to different officials, we are sending an identical copy of this letter to the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.