Panel to Warn Bush of Intelligence - Sharing Problems

By REUTERS

New York Times

March 28, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - A commission reviewing U.S. intelligence operations will warn this week that major obstacles remain to intelligence sharing among spy agencies, despite calls for change after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, people who have seen a draft report said on Sunday.

The nine-member bipartisan commission, created by President Bush and headed by appeals court judge Laurence Silberman and former Virginia governor and senator Charles Robb, is expected to issue its report on Thursday.

Bush was spending the holiday week end at his Crawford, Texas ranch.

The report will also include recommendations aimed at bolstering U.S. intelligence operations after a series of high-profile failures, from missed opportunities to thwart al Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks to claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. None has been found.

A commission spokesman declined to discuss the contents of the report, portions of which have been circulating among the U.S. intelligence agencies.

``The report that goes to the president will be a detailed analysis of all 15 intelligence agencies, and the assessment will be blunt and to the point,'' said spokesman Larry McQuillan.

Set up to investigate flaws in the intelligence cited in launching the Iraq war, sources said the report will look more broadly and is expected to cite shortcomings in U.S. intelligence on weapon programs in Iran and North Korea.

The commission's report is also expected to focus on continued hurdles to intelligence-sharing between U.S. agencies more than two years after Bush announced that he would address the problem by creating the nation's first unified Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

Bush later signed into law the biggest U.S. intelligence overhaul in a half century, based on the recommendations of a separate commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

In February, he nominated John Negroponte as the new director of national intelligence to try to curb bureaucratic infighting and organize closer cooperation among the Pentagon, CIA and other agencies.

``Intelligence sharing remains an issue,'' said a person who has seen a draft of the intelligence commission's report. ``They are not sharing the way they should.''

The unified threat center combines personnel from the CIA, FBI, and departments of defense, state and homeland security as well as other agencies.

Bush offered an upbeat assessment of inter-agency cooperation in a February 2003 speech touting the center as ``another crucial advance in meeting the threats of this time.''

But critics say the threat-center has had mixed results melding the cultures, technologies and secrets of agencies that have different computer systems and still closely guard highly-classified terrorism information.

According to a report on Sunday in Newsweek magazine, when members of the White House commission paid a visit to the threat center, now renamed the National Counter-Terrorism Center, they were dismayed by what they found.

There were no less than nine levels of classified information stored in the center's computers. Analysts from different agencies had different clearances, making it difficult for them to talk to one another.

The panel's recommendations will include folding the Justice Department's various domestic intelligence and national-security operations into one office, creating a streamlined national-security division, Newsweek reported.