After the September 11 attacks, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency
worked frantically to track potential suspects.
Each agency quickly gathered information on the whereabouts and activities
of the alleged hijackers. But they did not necessarily share the information
with one another, and some analysts say that such lack of communication between
the various law-enforcement agencies continues to be a problem in protecting
the United States from future attacks.
This need for connectivity, meanwhile, is opening new business opportunities
for companies in the information technology sector. Industry representatives
interviewed for this story generally agreed that the task of linking large,
stove-piped agencies is difficult, but doable.
“We have to write a software program to pluck off information we’re
looking for in suspected terrorists, such as visa violators who just applied
for weapons permits,” said Robert Nabors, chief of homeland security for
San Diego-based EDS Government Solutions. A retired Army major general, Nabors
used to serve as the Pentagon’s chief information officer. He was also
deputy commander of the White House Communications Agency.
“There has to be information sharing,” Nabors said. “The
various databases of the FBI, Customs, INS, Treasury and others, must be linked
so things can fit together across the federal government and provide it to local
law enforcement,” he said. “On September 11, cities were attacked,
and it was the local beat cop, the local firefighter and the local emergency
medical personnel who provided the first response and who maintained the front
line until the federal agencies could respond,” he said.
Nabors stressed that one of the biggest challenges is “aggregating data,
which is a privacy issue that should not be abused,” he said. “But
our law enforcement agencies simply must have the information available to protect
“The first goal of any homeland security initiative should be to enable
secure communication and ensure interoperability on multiple levels, to deliver
the right information to the right people at the right time, in an easily usable
form,” Nabors said.
EDS also is working on biometrics technology, such as retinal scan, electronic
fingerprints and facial-recognition software to enhance homeland security, said
Nabors. A homeland security solution, however, “will require long-term
capitalization and reprioritization within the federal budget, and we must ensure
the monies are spent at the appropriate levels,” he said.
Jim Rama, manager of government operations at Arlington, Va.-based Halliburton
KBR, said the company is pursuing new business in this field. “We are
actively involved in the development stages of a knowledge and information center,
that will help store, process, analyze and disseminate information of all types,”
he said. The information center was conceived before September 11. “But
now, after the attacks, the question is, is it big enough? Do we have all the
agencies that need to be feeding into it?” he asked.
Halliburton, a $12 billion, worldwide company, does approximately 10 percent
of its work for the federal government, under the name Halliburton KBR. The
company’s newly created “Team Homeland” is made up of companies
such as the Armor Group, Black and Veitch, Stone and Webster, and Baker.
“We have a prototypical design available today, an intelligence center
that could provide an overarching link that would collate the many different
sorts of data, to bring together the things that gather intelligence (like satellites)
and the people who bring in intelligence from the field,” Rama said.
San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Homeland Security, a division of Siebel Systems,
has unveiled a computer program that would link numerous federal agencies and
allow them to share information in real time. This technology could be described
as “multi-agency, multi-channel software solutions to anticipate, prevent,
track and respond to homeland security threats,” said Frank Bishop, the
company’s vice president and general manager.
Siebel has 3,000 customers worldwide, “and we work to help them share
information about their customers,” he said. The company developed e-business
software for large companies such as JP Morgan, IBM and Chase Manhattan.
“We’re taking all the experience we’ve had in the private
sector … and leveraging it to the federal government. We’ve invested
a billion dollars in research and development for this product,” he said.
The program that Siebel has recently presented to the White House Office of
Homeland Security is a comprehensive database unit that allows planners, agents,
emergency responders and others access to a system with real-time response capabilities.
The program, Siebel officials claim, would facilitate collaboration between
They assert, for example, that this system could have prevented hijacker Mohammed
Atta from getting on the plane on September 11, if information has been gathered
in a coordinated manner.
“Mohammed Atta obtained a visa to enter the United States in January
2000,” said Matt Malden, a Siebel vice president. “The CIA learned
from the Czech Intelligence Service in June of that year that Atta had met with
an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.” Atta then returned to the United
States, where he opened several bank accounts and received a large money transfer
from a known associate of Osama Bin Laden, Malden said.
Atta proceeded to train his co-conspirators, took flying lessons, received
additional funding from various sources, and continued to travel abroad to meet
with other suspected terrorists.
“With Siebel Homeland Security, the FBI agent assigned to Atta would
have had a central database for tracking all information associated with Atta,”
Malden charged. “The agent could have received automated alerts of Atta’s
movements and analyzed Atta’s relationship to other members of the terrorist
cell to which he was linked.
“Being able to aggregate all of this information and analyze it to find
significant trends would have given the agent a better understanding of the
cell’s structure and operation,” he said.
Additionally, Siebel officials said, this technology could have helped avert
the September 11 attacks by giving law-enforcement agents access to information
provided by a flight instructor who taught another suspected terrorist, Zacarias
Moussaoui. The flight instructor contacted the FBI to report that his student
was only interested in learning how to steer a plane, not how to take off or
land. Based on similarities between Atta and Moussaoui’s movements and
associates, the Siebel system would have automatically sent an alert to the
FBI agent tracking Atta.
“Using the automated workflow capabilities of the Siebel solution, the
agent could have swiftly alerted other agencies and law enforcement authorities,
perhaps leading to Atta’s arrest,” Malden said.
“If you could have collated, analyze and disseminated all of the data
and acted upon it properly—if all of those things had been done by September
11—then, yeah, the attack could have probably been averted,” said
However, not all analysts agree that information should be shared willy-nilly.
There are many reasons why past and current intelligence officials might be
unwilling to share information with other organizations.
“Any good intelligence officer will tell you that it is important to
have multiple, independent sources of information. That’s how you confirm
good intelligence,” said a Washington-based intelligence expert. “It’s
a cornerstone of the (intelligence) community that information should only be
shared with those who need it. Each agency has a mission to achieve its goals,
and it guards its information religiously,” he said.
“The challenge always is, garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Nabors.
“We need to put in sufficient safeguards [and] to check that data is accurate,”
But the intelligence expert explained that there is much more at stake than
simply the risk that information could be inaccurate. He explained that there
is an “old school” and “new school” within the intelligence
community, sometimes referred to as “black” and “white.”
The “black” world, the old school, tends to be stove-piped and closely
guards its information without sharing it. “You would have to demonstrate
to the old school why you need that information before they would give it to
you,” he said. The new school, or the “white” world, would
tend to favor information sharing.
This expert argued that there is a tested benefit to being able to confirm
information independently. “If we all read the same newspaper, we’d
all have the same information, and it would have the same bias. If multiple
sources were working from the same database, potentially all the information
could become flawed,” he said.
“In the intelligence community, it’s true that the world is black
and white,” said Rama. “What you can’t do is overcome internal
biases in the intelligence community.”
It will be problematic to get the black world to share information, Rama said.
“They’ve got to want to do this. But whether they agree with it
or not, it’s going to happen, probably in stages—starting with the
use of a common database.”