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Security Data Must Be Shared Among 16 Agencies

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Security Data Must Be Shared Among 16 Agencies

National Security

Security Data Must Be Shared Among 16 Agencies

Security Data Must Be Shared Among 16 Agencies

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122304715/122304737" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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After the September 11th terrorist attacks, changes were made to make sure important intelligence is shared within the U.S. government. Yet the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day suggests that the overhaul didn't work. The challenge is coordinating among the CIA, FBI, NSA and others — an alphabet soup of more than 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We have here a list of a few of the federal agencies charged with keeping us safe.

BRAND: NCTC.

INSKEEP: NSA.

BRAND: CIA.

INSKEEP: NSC.

BRAND: DHS.

INSKEEP: DOD.

BRAND: FBI.

INSKEEP: DOS. Post-9/11 reforms were supposed to streamline and coordinate the intelligence that all these agencies gather.

BRAND: Hi, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, paint us a picture, if you will, of how all these agencies, this alphabet soup of agencies, are supposed to work together post-9/11. I understand that representatives from them actually sit down together pretty regularly.

LOUISE KELLY: And I should mention, later today the White House is releasing a version of its first findings on the Christmas Day attack. We're expecting the president to announce some more of the steps he's taking to strengthen the system. So we'll be watching for that and any changes that he may choose to announce.

BRAND: Right. Well, walk us through what happens now with a hypothetical incident. Let's say the CIA gets a tip about someone at a terrorist training camp in Yemen. What is supposed to happen?

LOUISE KELLY: Sometimes it seems just to take a while for the system to catch up with itself. For example, an interesting twist today is that the L.A. Times is reporting in the case of Abdul Mutallab - this is the alleged bomber on Christmas Day - U.S. border enforcement officials actually did discover his extremist links in the terrorist database, but while he was airborne, while he was on that plane to Detroit, and that they were apparently planning to question him when he landed. By then, of course, it would've been too late.

BRAND: Right. Well, one of the recommendations from the 9/11 commission was a better computer system, computer systems that actually talk to each other between the various agencies. Has that been changed? Have those systems been upgraded?

LOUISE KELLY: When I was out just a few weeks ago at NCTC, I asked the current director whether this is better, has it changed. And he said it's better. Technology's better, but it's still a big challenge.

BRAND: Well, clearly the system didn't work on Christmas Day. Is there a sense that this reorganized intelligence community works at least better than it did before 9/11 in other incidents?

LOUISE KELLY: Again, an incident like Christmas Day underscores there's a lot of work still to be done.

BRAND: Could it be, Mary Louise, that there is just too much bureaucracy, that more is actually less?

LOUISE KELLY: I think that that is the sense now. We have since 9/11 created this Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, the NCTC we've been talking about. I think before 9/11 the thinking was, you all these different spy agencies but no one focused on running the overall intelligence effort. One way to think about it is, you had a lot of spokes on the wheel but no hub. Now a reasonable question is, do we have too many hubs?

BRAND: Mary Louis Kelly is NPR's national security correspondent. Thank you.

LOUISE KELLY: Thank you.

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