Siebel CEO outlines critical nature of information sharing

About a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Tom Siebel, founder and CEO of Siebel Systems, enlisted former CIA and FBI employees to help the San Mateo, Calif., applications-software company develop tools to boost homeland security.

The efforts resulted in a retooled version of Siebel's business-application software that the company has been promoting and demonstrating to government agencies, lawmakers, government contractors, Bush administration officials and journalists. The technology enables the government's thousands of different computer systems to communicate with one another to track potential terrorist activity.

"We have spent $1 billion over the past eight years in developing [business applications] software ... and we thought we could use this approach for homeland security," Siebel said in an interview with National Journal Group reporters. "We are just trying to contribute what we know."

At the core of Siebel's homeland security software is a program that tracks patterns of activity in databases. As part of the company's demonstration, Siebel sketched a timeline of the data that the FBI, CIA, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Treasury Department, and state and local police collected about the Sept. 11 terrorists over the past two years.

If the agencies had used Siebel's software to connect their databases and analyze the patterns, the government may have been alerted about the attacks in advance, Siebel argued.

For example, Siebel noted that in June 2000, the CIA knew that terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, Czech Republic. Later that month, the INS knew that Atta entered the United States through New York. In early July, Treasury knew that Atta had received a $100,000 wire transfer from an operative of Osama bin Laden. Later in July, the FAA knew that Atta enrolled in a Florida aviation school.

Yet because each agency only had a piece of the data, it was not enough to sound an alarm. "It was kind of an absurd organizational failure," Siebel said.

Government officials are starting to understand the impact that the lack of information sharing may have played in the attacks. In President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget request, the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office would receive $20 million to form an Information Integration Office, which would design and help implement an information-sharing architecture. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge also said this week that information sharing needs to be a permanent part of the nation's technology infrastructure.

Siebel said his company's demonstrations have helped shift perspective on the urgent need for information sharing. "In our little way, we are having influence," he said.

Siebel could not calculate how much it would cost to integrate all government agencies beyond the expectation of "billions" of dollars. It also would take years of work. He estimated that it would take at minimum 18 months to get all of the INS' databases intercommunicating.

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