House panel hears call to support new intelligence office

The Bush administration and Congress must provide more resources to a new office charged with making it easier for federal officials to share intelligence information with state and local officials, the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee was told Tuesday.

"Congress has authorized, but not yet appropriated, funding for the [information-sharing] program manager's office," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who served as the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

Hamilton, along with William Crowell, a member of the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, said lawmakers and the White House need to empower the office with more, dedicated resources.

Their comments followed testimony from John Russack, the newly appointed information sharing program manager, before the subcommittee.

Russack told the panel that National Intelligence Director John Negroponte had given his office $9.6 million in fiscal 2005 funding to set up shop, but that Congress did not designate a specific 2006 funding level for his office, which did not get its own line in the intelligence budget.

Russack estimated that his office needs $30 million a year to facilitate information sharing. "I have a feeling I will get at least $20 million," said Russack about his 2006 allocation.

Congress created the posts held by Negroponte and Russack as part of the intelligence overhaul measure enacted late last year. That bill was prompted by the 9/11 Commission's report, which found that "poor information sharing was the single greatest failure of our government in the lead-up" to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hamilton said Tuesday.

Hamilton and Crowell said the administration and Russack's office lack a sense of urgency to get on with the job. Hamilton observed that Russack's testimony focused on future initiatives. "What capabilities do they have now?" Hamilton asked. "The terrorists aren't going to wait."

They also criticized the administration for not meeting a deadline in September to provide Congress with a report on guidelines for sharing information. The White House asked for an extension, arguing a delay was because of the government's efforts to respond to Hurricane Katrina.

Russack told lawmakers his office has hired a dozen officials and plans to add a dozen more to the roster by the end of the month.

The office has also set up two pilot programs to determine policy, technology and security needs for information sharing. One initiative provides New York FBI field officials with e-mails and alerts on handheld wireless devices about relevant intelligence.

Russack said he would like to have a dozen similar pilot projects by the end of next year and expand the New York initiative to metropolitan police in that city and Washington.

His office also wants to create an electronic directory of sources for federal agencies with lists of professionals across the federal government as well as state and local governments, the private sector and academia.

During the hearing, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., erupted with accusations that Hamilton and other commissioners ignored information that the government knew about possible al-Qaida members before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Weldon, citing a secret military intelligence program called Able Danger that he said identified some of the future hijackers by the fall of 2000, reiterated recent criticism that the commission failed to address this intelligence in its final report last year.

The Pentagon, however, has not confirmed that 9/11 terrorists such as Mohammed Atta had been identified as potential threats.

Weldon stormed out of the hearing after becoming upset with Hamilton's answers and accusing the former commission vice chairman of lying and being part of a cover-up by the Bush administration.

"I'm going to get to the bottom of this," Weldon warned as he headed out the door.

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