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TESTIMONY OF ELEANOR HILL, STAFF DIRECTOR, JOINT
INQUIRY STAFF Ms. HILL. Thank you Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Joint Committee. In prior hearings, we have, as you know, discussed very specific information sharing issues relating to the performance of the Intelligence Committee prior to the events of September 11. Today, I will discuss what our review has, to date, uncovered regarding more systemic aspects of information sharing between the agencies of the Intelligence Community and between those agencies and other Federal, State and local entities. Before addressing the issue of information sharing, however, I would like to first summarize our review of what we have found the non-intelligence community agencies knew about the hijackers.
In short, we have not found any evidence that non-Intelligence Community agencies had any information prior to September 11 that the 19 individuals who took part in the attacks had terrorist ties. We also found that the non-Intelligence Community agencies were, for the most part, focused on specific threats to their areas, their particular areas of responsibility, such as airline hijackings or an individual terrorist crossing the border.
We did not find any significant and sustained focus on a war against bin Ladin in which terrorist operatives might launch multiple attacks against the continental United States using such tactics as airplanes as weapons. While the FAA, the Customs Service, the State Department and INS each had data concerning the 19 hijackers, that data was not related to their terrorist activities or associations. As a result, none of this information would, by itself, have aroused suspicions regarding a planned terrorist attack within the United States. Instead, these agencies had routine information concerning the vital statistics, travel, immigration and medical status of some of the hijackers.
For example, prior to September 11, the FAA had airman records on hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour and Ziad Jarrah. The INS also had records concerning the 19 hijackers, specifically the type of visa and the duration of the stay adjudicated by the immigration officer for each individual.
Finally, U.S. Customs Service officials have advised the staff that the information Customs had concerning the 19 hijackers prior to September 11 was contained in the routine forms that they filled out when they arrived in the United States. Moving on to the general topic of information sharing, during the course of our interviews, intelligence and non-intelligence personnel alike complained that a range of political, cultural, jurisdictional, legal and bureaucratic issues are ever-present hurdles.
Prior to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, many suggested that law enforcement information was not adequately shared with the Intelligence Community. The reverse was also apparently true despite amendments to the National Security Act in the 1990s which were designed to make clear that foreign intelligence could be collected for and shared with U.S. law enforcement agencies.
We were told that not all threat information in possession of the Intelligence Community or law enforcement agencies is necessarily shared with agencies that need it the most in order to counter the
threats. For example, the FAA was not provided a copy of the FBI's Phoenix memorandum prior to September 11, 2001, and still did not have a copy two weeks after the matter had become public in early 2002
In another example, the CIA did not provide the Department of State with large numbers of intelligence reports that included the names of terrorist suspects until shortly after September 11, 2001. The reasons for this reluctance to share ranged from a legitimate concern about the protection of intelligence sources and methods to a lack of understanding of the functions of other agencies. The vast majority of the information related to the hijackers, or to threats posed by aircraft, came to the non-Intelligence Community agencies from the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI. According to officials from the Departments of Transportation, State, Energy, Defense and Treasury, unless information in the possession of FBI and CIA is shared on a timely basis, they are unable to include dangerous individuals on various watchlists to either deny them entry into the United States or apprehend suspected terrorists while in the United States.
The State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Customs Service all maintain watchlists of named individuals. The Federal Aviation Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, INS and other agencies also perform a limited amount of information collection designed to place individuals on watch lists.
The staff review to date has found no single agency or database or computer network that integrates all counterterrorism information nationwide. Information about the hijackers and about alQa'ida can be found in disparate databases spread among a range of intelligence and civilian agencies. Specifically, as exemplified by the Phoenix communication, FBI information related to possible alQa'ida terrorists was often scattered in various regional offices and not shared with the FBI headquarters or with other agencies.
Furthermore, law enforcement, immigration, visa and intelligence information related to the 19 hijackers was not organized in any manner to allow for any one agency to detect terrorism-related trends and patterns in their activities. Numerous officials stated that there are many hurdles to sharing information. A major issue for example, relates to the availability of properly cleared personnel. Some Federal agencies we visited, which did not have personnel cleared for sensitive compartmented information, or SCI data, advised that they could have benefitted from receiving more specific data on potential terrorists.
We were also told that many State and local agencies do not have personnel cleared for even the lowest level of access to national security information, let alone SCI access. As a result, while appropriately cleared, FAA, TSA, INS and Department of State officials may receive significant intelligence information, they may be unable to disseminate data within their organization or to State and local officials because the potential recipients are not cleared to receive it.
Another difficulty mentioned repeatedly is the originator control, or ORCON caveat. Agencies that generate intelligence impose this caveat when disseminating raw and finished intelligence to pro
hibit further dissemination without their approval. Thus, an agency may receive very important information that could be of use to a third agency that is not a recipient, but may be unable to share it because of the caveat. Although this matter can be resolved through agreed-upon procedures, the process can be lengthy and cumbersome, and may not meet the near real-time lines often required to track and apprehend terrorist suspects.
We were told that because information sharing is inconsistent and haphazard, agencies have tried various means available to them to circumvent the hurdles. These include signed memorandums of agreement with other agencies, the use of detailed employees to other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, participation in joint task forces, and attempts to design and field common databases.
I want to, at this point, just briefly go through what a number of different agencies told us during our staff discussions with them, and I will start with the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration. Following the hijacking of a TWA aircraft in the Middle East in the mid-1980s, the FAA established a small office, which is now a part of the Transportation Security Administration, to review the incoming intelligence regarding threats to aviation. The intelligence is translated into information circulars, emergency amendments and security directives for the aviation industry.
The circulars and directives are issued to domestic and foreign airlines, and to the airports to advise them of current and potential terrorist threats. They are also provided to the Intelligence Community and law enforcement agencies. Prior to September 11, the FAA had issued a number of circulars and directives as a direct result of intelligence received from the Intelligence Community regarding extremist Islamic groups.
These FAA publications advised the airlines of the methods that might be used by such groups to hijack an airplane or to plant explosives in airplanes. None, however, has been found that discussed crashing planes into buildings. The Intelligence Community is required by law to provide the Department of Transportation with intelligence concerning international terrorism.
As a result, the Department receives intelligence from the CIA, the Department of State, the FBI, the NSA and DIA. However, transportation officials advised the staff that they do not believe that they receive all the available intelligence that is needed to perform their mission. In their view, the agencies that collect the information make decisions on what is relevant for and what should be shared with the Department of Transportation. The issue reportedly is one of context and depth of understanding. By not receiving the sum total of the intelligence on all transportation issues, the Transportation Security Administration may not be able to connect events or to link suspicious activities.
TSA officials stated that although they can submit their requirements to the Intelligence Community through established procedures, there is nothing that requires the community to collect against those requirements.
Turning to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, the INS maintains records on all visitors who arrive in the United States. INS officials told the staff that the Law Enforcement Sup
port Center, or the LESC, in Burlington, Vermont is a key datasharing center designed to support other law enforcement agencies. The LĖSC assists in determining the status of detainees or to find persons.
INS officials stated that the August 2001 notice to watchlist Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar was not accompanied by any specific notation that indicated that the INS should use all means possible to find these two suspects. INS officials said that, had they been told to put the highest priority on the search, they would have used the LESC and believed they may have found the two suspects prior to September 11.
The Defense Intelligence Agency: The Director of DIA chairs a standing committee that serves as an integrating mechanism for the Department of Defense. It is called the Military Intelligence Board, or MIB. DCI representatives usually attend and participate in its discussions. Over time, the MIB has wrestled with information-sharing issues prior to September 11. According to DIA representatives, information-sharing issues, such as restrictive caveats, handling of information in virtual and collaborative work spaces, limited distribution to senior officials only and support to homeland defense, have been discussed by the MIB since at least the mid-1990s.
For example, the need to establish an information-sharing mechanism was addressed at least as early as February, 1995, in the context of multi agency operations in Haiti. Senior DIA officials told the staff that information-sharing issues are not new to the Intelligence Community and are not limited to the context of September 11. According to them, the basic legal community cultural and technological barriers have been understood for years.
After the USS Cole attack, the DIA reportedly took significant steps to alter its structure, processes and policies associated with terrorism analysis. DIA officials advise that the DIA now challenges its analysts to think out of the box and to exploit all relevant information, including open source reporting. They also stated that DIA has implemented mechanisms that allow more effective receipt and dissemination of critical intelligence information. According to DIA personnel, there have been mixed results with the Intelligence Community partnerships. For example, the mere act of assigning an analyst to another organization does not always ensure a greater level of access to information or more open sharing of information.
DIA acknowledged that its analysts who are detailed to counterpart organizations do not have unfettered and unconditional access to all relevant terrorist information. Former DIA Director Admiral Thomas Wilson explained to the staff that information sharing implies that one "owns” the information, a concept with which he does not agree. According to Wilson, agencies need to change their culture and shed the belief that they own the information; the information belongs to the United States Government and the entire Intelligence Community, at least in his view.
Turning to the Department of Treasury, several Treasury Department components receive intelligence relating to financial matters from the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Officials in Treasury's financial crimes enforcement network
and the U.S. Customs Service reported to the staff that they submit intelligence requirements to the Intelligence Community but have no assurance that the intelligence will be collected and provided to them on a timely and regular basis.
The Secret Service at Treasury does occupy a unique position because of its primary mission to protect the President. According to the Secret Service, it does receive the intelligence that is necessary for it to perform that particular mission. Post September 11, U.S. Customs officials used information available in Treasury databases to develop a comprehensive analysis of the travel, finances and linkages of the hijackers.
Specifically, U.Š. Customs Service analysts used suspicious activity reports, currency or monetary instrument reports and currency transaction reports obtained from the Treasury Department. Much of the analysis was completed by November, 2001. Customs officials advised that the majority of the information used in that analysis to show the domestic and international activities and associations of the hijackers came from law enforcement databases, specifically the Interagency Border Inspection System, or IBIS, and not from intelligence. According to the Customs Service, there are over 30,000 users of IBIS, but it has no formal connection apart from the FBI's participation to the Intelligence Community.
Turning to the Department of State, State Department officials advised the staff that at least 1,500 CIRs, Central Intelligence reports, containing terrorist names, were not provided to the TIPOFF watchlisting program until after September 11, 2001.
After an analysis of those CIRs was completed, the names of approximately 150 suspected terrorists were identified and 58 new suspected terrorist names were added to the TIPOFF watchlist. State Department officials advised that they have had continuing difficulty obtaining data for watchlisting purposes from the national crime information centers interstate identification index that is managed by the FBI. The events of September 11, 2001, have led to an almost universal acknowledgment in the U.S. Government of the need for consolidating and streamlining collection, analysis and dissemination of information concerning threats to the United States and its interests.
According to the President's national strategy for homeland security, intelligence contributes to every aspect of homeland security and is a vital foundation for the homeland security effort. The strategy recognizes that U.S. information technology is the most advanced in the world, but that our information systems have not adequately supported the homeland security mission.
According to the strategy, the U.S. Government spends about $50 billion per year on information technology, but the systems purchased are not compatible between the agencies of the Federal Government or with State and local entities. The strategy acknowledges that legal and cultural barriers often prevent agencies from exchanging and integrating intelligence and other information.
In response to these problems, the strategy first calls for integrating information-sharing across the Federal Government through the critical infrastructure assurance office. The strategy also calls for integrating information-sharing across State and local governments, private industry and among the U.S. citizenry. Using