U.S. counter-terrorism analysts still lack the data-search tools that might have kept a bomb-wearing Al Qaeda operative from boarding a Detroit-bound airliner nine months ago, and probably won’t have them any time soon, officials tell the Los Angeles Times. At the same time, officials say the terrorist threat against the U.S. is becoming more complex, with a greater risk from home-grown militants whose low profiles make sophisticated intelligence analysis more important than ever. “It frustrates me,” said former Republican New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who co-chaired the Sept. 11 commission, which urged U.S. intelligence agencies to vastly improve information sharing. “The president’s got to make this a top priority,” and right now it doesn’t seem to be, Kean said.
Analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center, created after the Sept. 11 attacks to integrate intelligence gathered by dozens of spy agencies, still sit in front of multiple computers searching databases maintained by the different government departments. Lawmakers have pushed for a capability to search across the government’s vast library of terrorism information, but there are serious technical and policy hurdles. The databases are written in myriad computer languages; different legal standards are employed on how collected information can be used; and there is reluctance within some agencies to share data. There are no easy legislative or technical fixes, said Russell Travers, information sharing chief at the National Counterterrorism Center. The agency is pursuing solutions that will allow automated connection of related information across databases, but “my guess is that this will be a challenge into perpetuity, because we get more and more information every day,” he said. One intelligence agency alone gets 8,000 terrorism messages each day with 11,000 to 15,000 names. Fran Townsend, a counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush, said last year, “This is not a technology problem. It’s a failure of policy and a failure of leadership. I venture to say that if the president of the United States calls in his Cabinet and says a Cabinet member will be fired if his agency fails to share information, you betcha that information is going to get shared  and we haven’t seen that.”