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Wednesday, Aug 04, 2004

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Pooling intelligence

B. S. Raghavan

WANT of coordination, and willingness to share available intelligence, among government agencies responsible for national security, is a constant refrain in almost all reports of inquiry committees set up in the US and the UK. In other words, the more insistent the call for a change in the mindset of intelligence and security agencies, the more closely and jealously have they been clinging to their respective turfs.

Nominally, there are mechanisms such as the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Cabinet-level Committee and the like, but the malaise continues. The latest to bemoan it are the Hutton and Butler committees in the UK and the 9/11 Commission in the US.

The massive terrorist attack of 9/11 on the US soil had no doubt triggered efforts in the US to bring intelligence gathering, sharing and analysis under one umbrella. The Department of Homeland Security came into being in record time and put in place an Internet-based information network to facilitate instant access to intelligence, including classified materials, on existing and emerging threats and on activities of terrorists as individuals and groups obtained through world-wide surveillance.

The Defence Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are all now geared for the maximum possible cooperation in pooling and assessing the intelligence coming their way.

The CIA's Terrorist Threat Integration Centre (TTIC) has achieved by far the most extensive coverage in this respect enabling experts in the intelligence field to have direct access to 14 government networks, to be soon supplemented by an additional 10. But, there is as yet no single authority specifically entrusted with oversight and enforcement functions.

The 9/11 Commission has now proposed the creation of a new post of National Intelligence Director with a National Counterterrorism Centre (NCC) under his charge. The NCC, which will replace the TTIC, is meant to serve as the top agency for digesting, processing and assessing all the available intelligence collected under official auspices.

The full range of the state-of-the-art technological prowess of the US will be pressed into service to make the NCC an almost infallible early warning system.

Of course, all this makes impressive reading, but, as always in human affairs, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We will have to wait and see how it all works out in practice.

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