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Systems Not Go for Integrating Terrorism Data

Computer Limits a Problem

By Katherine Pfleger Shrader
Associated Press

If information is power, few in the federal government have more than John O. Brennan.

He sits at the core of the country's 18-month-old terrorism analysis network, called the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which can peer into 26 government computer networks to assess data on international terrorism threats.

But what Brennan still cannot do is a clear sign of how far the federal government has to go.

At his desk at the center's headquarters, Brennan can toggle between computer networks that were once off-limits to people who didn't work for those agencies -- networks for the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Department, the National Security Agency and more.

"No one in the U.S. government has access to the networks I have access to," Brennan said in an interview in his office.

But Brennan cannot run one single search through all federal counterterrorism computer networks simultaneously to pull together all the information about a specific terrorist group or operative.

That, he says, would be truly revolutionary.

"If you are able to touch that data all at one time, you can create new knowledge by pulling in things that have a relationship that you didn't know existed otherwise," said Brennan, a 23-year CIA veteran and Middle East expert.

In what has become a refrain since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Brennan added, "You really have to try to connect the dots."

In one now-famous July 2001 memo, an FBI officer in Arizona warned that Osama bin Laden might be trying to coordinate efforts to send Islamic extremists to U.S. flight schools. Known as the "Phoenix memo," it got lost inside the FBI and wasn't acted on.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush announced the formation of TTIC, (pronounced tee-tick), to bring together employees from the FBI, CIA, the Defense Department and elsewhere to "merge and analyze all threat information in a single location." Today, the center has several hundred employees.

But some in Congress wonder why the agency hasn't linked all the computer systems.

"It's three years after 9/11. This is not a new idea or concept -- that we would create this [computer] architecture," Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) recently said to Brennan at a congressional hearing. "And here we are . . . almost three years later, saying, 'Boy, we're going to have to do this soon, aren't we?' What has stopped us?"

Brennan said the center is trying to bring disparate computer systems together.

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