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    Still Plenty Of Dots To Connect In Halting Homeland Security Threats

    The Boston Marathon bombing and the revelation of far reaching domestic spying programs by the US government -- two seemingly unrelated events this year -- underscore nagging problems in protecting the homeland.

    The Boston tragedy resurrected questions that surfaced after the 9/11 attacks about the ability of law enforcement and intelligence analysts to “connect the dots” that might indicate a potential terrorist threat. The domestic spying disclosures involving the National Security Agency (NSA) called into question how much intelligence the government needs to protect Americans and why hadn't it prevented the Boston bombing.

    In the days after 9/11, Washington made preventing another attack with weapons of mass destruction on US soil its top homeland security priority.

    For more than a decade, US officials made good on their vow, interrupting numerous plots including conspiracies to blow up New York City's subways, its iconic Times Square and transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives.

    But that success record took a hit on April 15 at the Boston Marathon when shrapnel laden bombs concealed in backpacks were detonated near the finish line, killing three people and maiming hundreds of others. Investigators moved swiftly and within days, a photo identification of suspects was made thanks to security camera images from the area around the bombing. The ensuing manhunt led to a gunbattle with police that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, captured.

    But as more was learned about the suspects and their backgrounds, questions arose about why authorities hadn't been monitoring their activities -- especially after it was revealed Russian security officials sent a letter to the FBI in 2011, saying Tamerlan was believed to be a radical Islamist. The FBI conducted an investigation -- even interviewing the elder Tsarnaev brother and found nothing suspicious. The Russians did not reply to two subsequent letters the FBI sent seeking more information and the bureau, lacking legal authority to pursue the case further, closed the investigation.

    Lawmakers in Washington questioned why the elder Tsarnaev brother wasn't placed on a watch list -- given the Russian warning? Hadn't the authorities learned from the mistakes made before 9/11?

    The 9/11 Commission Report issued by a blue ribbon panel recommended restructuring the US Intelligence Community to eliminate structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work. “The importance of integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to 'connect the dots.' No one component holds all the relevant information,” the Commission Report stated.

    This past Spring, British and American newspapers carried embarrassing revelations, leaked by rogue NSA contractor Edward Snowden, about two of the agency's secret intelligence gathering programs to  collect meta data on domestic cell phone calls and emails. In addition to outraging the public, lawmakers and overseas allies, the leaks hurt intelligence-gathering because they tipped off adversaries to US methods, said NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander.

    Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the leaks were the legacy, at least in part, of the drive for more information sharing among government agencies in the wake of the 9/11 intelligence failures. In particular, Carter told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum, too much classified information had been stored in one place and a single worker had unsupervised access to that data. As a remedy, Carter suggested a system similar to that used by the military in handling nuclear weapons -- a “two-man rule” -- where no single person can access classified material.

    Information sharing was a hot topic at a recent Global Intelligence Forum in Washington sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train, the director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs, said intelligence sharing was “a challenge across the whole community.”  Larry Zelvin, director of the Homeland Security Department's National Cyber and Communications Integration Center, said a  big part of that challenge is cultural. “The Intelligence Community grew up in a need-to-know environment. We're [now] in a need to share environment,” he added.

    Read more at hstoday

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    Guest Tuesday, 11 August 2020