Chertoff faults Homeland Security methods

Collection and sharing of intelligence hurt by divisions, secretary says

April 14, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Department of Homeland Security fails at times to adequately collect and share intelligence, Secretary Michael Chertoff told a House committee yesterday, blaming lingering divisions among the many agencies merged two years ago to create the sprawling department.

"Intelligence is the driver of everything we do," Chertoff told the House Homeland Security Committee. "We need to make sure that we are capturing all of that, we are pulling it together and we are fusing it at the top of our organization."

Chertoff's comments echoed long-standing frustration by some lawmakers that the department was spending too much effort on how to respond to an attack and not enough on preventing a catastrophic strike.

With 180,000 employees and its regular interaction with thousands of private security chiefs, and local and state law enforcement officials, the department is a potential major source of intelligence leads, Chertoff told the committee.

The department often still fails to do enough to integrate tips and share them, both inside and outside the department, Chertoff said.

"We need to fuse and exploit all the information that we learn across the country so that when a Border Patrol agent in Texas learns of a new alien smuggling method, that information is fed up to our intelligence analysts, incorporated where appropriate into our strategy to combat smuggling and disseminated across the department to others focused on the same problem," he said in written testimony.

Since shortly after Homeland Security was set up, its exact role in collecting and disseminating intelligence about global threats has been in question. The department operates a high-tech, 24-hour Homeland Security Operations Center at its Washington headquarters, where it gathers information on domestic threats and sends it out electronically to federal, state and local officials nationwide.

But the Bush administration in 2003 asked the director of central intelligence, instead of Homeland Security, to oversee a new, more comprehensive, government-wide terrorist screening center, even though some members of Congress had wanted the Homeland Security Department to be responsible for that. The department has also had trouble recruiting intelligence analysts with top-secret security clearances.

Chertoff said yesterday that he was determined to find a way to restructure operations to increase the likelihood that important intelligence tips are quickly shared, hinting that he might propose the creation of a department-wide director of intelligence.

Frank Libutti, who recently resigned as the department's undersecretary in charge of intelligence, said yesterday that he had urged former Secretary Tom Ridge to make such a change.

"That person would be the center of gravity, the centerpiece for the department for all intelligence activities," Libutti said.

By pulling together more timely and critical intelligence, Chertoff said, Homeland Security would win more respect from the FBI, the CIA and the new director of national intelligence.

"Your value as a partner, is directly proportionate to your contribution as a partner," he told the committee.

Chertoff told the committee that he intends to unveil his recommendation by the end of next month for how he will restructure the department.

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