Monday, March 10, 2008

ITACG: Beneficial or Boondoggle?

The fur flew around the Cannon House Office Building on Feb. 26, when Charlie Allen, DHS Under Secretary - Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), testified before the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

The subject that caused all the sniping was the Interagency Threat Assessment Coordination Group (ITACG), which is supposed to "coordinate the production and timely issuance of the following interagency products intended for distribution to State, local, and tribal officials."

But is the ITACG working? If you listen to Allen's testimony, ITACG is working just great:

A major emphasis of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been the establishment of the Interagency Threat Assessment Coordination Group (ITACG), which has been stood up under the management of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to help us meet the information needs of our State, local, and tribal partners. I have provided two senior officers from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, along with two officers provided by the FBI, to lead the stand-up of this organization. I am extremely pleased to report that the ITACG achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC) on 30 January 2008 and that current staffing requirements have been met. In total, four federal and four state personnel, as well as contractor officers, are working in dedicated spaces with essential systems connectivity in NCTC.

The ITACG has already begun providing valuable input to intelligence products disseminated to State and local organizations, and its personnel regularly attend NCTC meetings and are engaged in NCTC production processes and activities critical to serving non-Federal customers. Since stand-up operations began on 23 October 2007 under DHS day-to-day leadership, the ITACG has reviewed more than 25,000 finished intelligence products. From that review, the ITACG identified products that meet State and local needs, and has already disseminated many of them to State and local officials. Since 23 October, the ITACG also has reviewed 1,576 separate reports on worldwide threats to U.S. interests, identifying 69 of these as possible threats to the Homeland. Further review by the ITACG revealed five reports of questionable credibility, two of which required better characterization of the threat or source. As a direct result of the ITACG’s efforts, DHS and the FBI refined our characterization of the threat and released joint reports on the two cases noted above requiring further threat detail.

I am confident that DHS, FBI, and NCTC in collaboration with the ITACG Advisory Council and ITACG personnel will work closely together – not only to ensure that the ITACG meets the letter and spirit of statutory obligations vis-à-vis State, local, and tribal needs, but also to synchronize and harmonize Intelligence Community support to our State, local, and tribal partners.
Sounds great. But Allen's testimony is directly challenged by the statements of Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and Intelligence Subcommittee Chair Jane Harman. Harman writes:
[I]t seems that the only stovepipe left standing is yours...

I have a major issue with I&A’s endless refusal to take the ITACG seriously and to build a robust State, local, and tribal presence at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) that makes the intelligence production process for State and locals better.

Although you promised last year that your staff would make a full effort to ensure the ITACG’s success, and although you told us you were proud to be leading the ITACG effort, you did not have it going in a few weeks as you had described.

DHS [has] made two things clear: First, it wants to control what homeland security information should be disseminated to State and locals. Second, it wants the ITACG to “go away” once the Information Sharing Environment “matures organizationally and culturally.”

Let me be clear. The ITACG is NOT going away.

I&A should be hungry for the State and local input that the ITACG offers – whether products created for those communities are produced at the NCTC, the FBI, or by your staff at the Nebraska Avenue Complex.

I was also disappointed to learn that your office is still debating about when State and locals detailed to the ITACG should become involved in preparing analytic products.

Effective information sharing is a major focus of this Subcommittee, and I have hoped that you would build an I&A that makes that happen.

Our hearing record, however, is full of testimony from State and local entities that tells us that they aren’t getting the products they need.

Bottom line, Charlie: you are not effectively serving the State and locals who are the people who will prevent the next attack.
Thompson adds:
I join with the Chair in here concern about the Department’s progress with the ITACG. The message, Mr. Allen, is clear: get the ITACG done right and get it done right now.

With your new authorities and influence, we expect nothing less than your total commitment to the success of the ITACG.

I don’t see how the proposed 9% increase in new funding for your office and the Office of Operations Coordination will help you satisfy those new obligations...
In my mind, the most disturbing part of this discussion is the assertion that DHS is not fully engaging the participation of state and local personnel in creating analytic reports. That means that information-sharing is seen as a one-way street, in which intelligence is parceled out and funneled down to state and local agencies.

A vibrant information-sharing system has to be a two-way street.

Update 03-18-08: Congresswoman Jane Harman weighs in at HLS Watch.

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