CIA, FBI developing intelligence supercomputer

After months of criticism that they do not work well together, the CIA and FBI have begun jointly developing a new supercomputer system designed to improve their ability to both cull and share information.

After months of criticism that they do not work well together, the CIA and FBI have begun jointly developing a new supercomputer system designed to improve their ability to both cull and share information, White House and other U.S. officials told Global Security Newswire yesterday. Under a directive issued by President Bush, and overseen by Office of Homeland Security officials, CIA and FBI officials are "working like crazy" to create a comprehensive database that could used by various federal and, in some cases, state agencies, officials said.

"They're trying to push more data and resources to the agencies and people in the field that otherwise wouldn't have them," a U.S. official said, referring to a data-mining system that could be used by the 32 federal agencies that collect classified information.

"There are several communitywide data-mining architectures that are being looked at to allow information sharing among the intelligence and law enforcement communities," the official continued. "A lot of it is tied to the homeland security initiatives."

The federal government is spending $155 million this year for "information and intelligence sharing," with $722 million more requested in next year's White House budget proposal, according to Homeland Security Office spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"The goals are to tear down the information stovepipes," Johndroe said yesterday, referring to the long-held practice of various agencies to keep data to themselves. "Information stays in one pipe, and now we're going to tear down those stovepipe walls."

Key Move

The creation of a new data-mining base, one capable of collecting unprecedented amounts of information that could be distributed to an array of agencies, has been viewed as the key move needed to prod the CIA, FBI and other secretive organizations to truly open up and work more closely and effectively together, officials and analysts said.

The sharing of a single database by the various agencies could allow U.S. authorities to better monitor terrorists and their financial support structures--and the companies and countries that participate in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, they said.

"It's not going to be easy to do this," said L. Paul Bremer, a former ambassador at large for counterterrorism who co-chaired a January Heritage Foundation report, "Defending the American Homeland," that deemed as "critical" more information sharing among intelligence agencies. "It isn't going to solve the problem, but it's going to make it more difficult for [terrorists] to enter the country," he said.

Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed about 3,100 people, five of the 19 hijackers were on various government watch lists but were never detected prior to the airline attacks, Bremer said.

The creation of a database shared by various intelligence and law enforcement agencies is "the first step in the right direction," said Bud DeFlaviis, spokesman for Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who has been pushing for such a system.

"It will only improve the flow of information between the agencies," the U.S. official said. "In the post-Sept. 11 environment there's greater desire for more information."

Pooling Resources

The use of massive high-speed computers with cutting-edge software could allow a wide range of U.S. organizations to pool resources, enabling them to better monitor and prevent the movements of terrorists and those that participate in the proliferation of dangerous weapons, officials said.

Utilizing the types of supercomputers already used by private industry to conduct marketing research, the CIA, FBI and other investigative agencies should be able to move beyond Counterintelligence-21--an information-sharing system now being used but already considered outdated, analysts said. The new system would take advantage of a faster, more comprehensive database, they said.

The new system under development should "meet the needs of all the consumers," the U.S. official said. "A lot of it is driven by [Homeland Security Director] Tom Ridge's office. It's something [CIA and FBI officials are] working on continuously. They're continuously meeting, discussing and designing the new database."

"It's been the topic of discussion" during meetings between Ridge and President Bush, Johndroe said.

Casting a Larger Net

A new supercomputer "will only help the information flow between the agencies, particularly between the federal agencies and the state and local authorities," the U.S. official said. "It's going to help the people who need it the most--first responders, the military, whoever."

The officials and analysts have said that it could be dangerous for too many people to get their hands on classified information during the war on terrorism, a concern balanced by the need to get information to all pertinent officials, including state and local authorities.

There are ways to safeguard the information on a single database, so that data is shared only on a "need to know" basis, they said.

Currently when intelligence agencies share information they do not provide raw data. Instead they offer outside agencies their interpretations of such data, a slow, cumbersome and often incomplete process, analysts said.

To make the most of scarce resources, intelligence officials need to make their raw data available to pertinent agencies or officials, analysts added.

FBI officials would not comment, but the U.S. official said the major challenge in devising a new supercomputer is making sure it has all the proper safeguards needed to protect the vital information it provides.

"Intelligence agencies are very reluctant to put a lot of information on a database that can be shared," Bremer said. "There are very few home runs in counterintelligence. You win with a lot of bunts and singles."