New chief faces pressure to advance data-sharing

March 03, 2006|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Filling a key national security post whose first occupant left after just six months, President Bush plans to name a former State Department counterterrorism adviser to head a government-wide intelligence-sharing effort, a senior intelligence official said yesterday.

Thomas E. McNamara, whose appointment is expected to be announced soon, will be under immediate pressure to produce a plan to knit together the information networks of the federal government's 16 intelligence agencies and link them with state and local intelligence efforts.

Carl Kropf, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, said he could not confirm the appointment before the White House announces it.

McNamara would be responsible for building the "information-sharing environment" established in the 2004 intelligence reform law.

Among the biggest shortcomings revealed by the Sept. 11 attacks were the failures of U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with each other, a lesson Washington has been struggling to learn. Three months ago, the former 9/11 commissioners gave the government a grade of "D" for its information-sharing efforts.

McNamara would replace John Russack, a former Navy intelligence officer and Energy Department intelligence chief who resigned a month ago.

Russack was "encouraged" to leave at the end of January, said the senior intelligence official, who added that Russack had been "frustrated" and that his military background was a poor fit for the new office.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California expressed concern at a Feb. 2 hearing that Russack's departure "will end any momentum on information-sharing that had been built up and that the state and local law enforcement will continue to lack the information that they need to find and stop terrorists."

At the hearing, Negroponte said he was "striving" to produce a plan for a nationwide information network by the end of the year, as Congress required. This information-sharing effort is slated to expire then unless the administration makes a strong case for its continuation.

Some intelligence experts say the effort is doomed to fail because it does not have a clear role. James Carafano, a security analyst at the Heritage Foundation, called it "a flawed mandate being incorrectly implemented."

Russack got off to a slow start. He was appointed in April, but as of October had just one employee and two contractors to help him.

Russack, who will stay on until his replacement is named, declined to be interviewed.

Russack established an "Information Sharing Council," a group of several dozen government agency representatives that meets weekly to address obstacles to information sharing, such as how documents are classified.

McNamara is currently serving as a special adviser to Negroponte. He held several security posts at the State Department and the White House in previous administrations. He returned to the government after the Sept. 11 attacks where he was a special adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism at the State Department. Before that, he was president of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, nonprofit groups that promote democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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