Gates orders more information sharing to stop inside attacks

New policy will help alert Defense's investigative groups to threat information discovered during counterintelligence operations on department networks, systems and computers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a new coordinated cyberspace counterintelligence policy that would better identify military personnel who pose a threat in an effort to avoid events such as the mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

E-mails and other electronic documents frequently have pointed to the possibility of wrongdoing. Investigators looking into the shooting said they had discovered at least 20 e-mails between Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, and radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attacks.

Investigators believe al-Awlaki might have known in advance about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and he has had contacts with other radical Muslims, including Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane in December 2009.

Internal Army reports indicated personnel were aware of Hasan's tilt toward radicalism since 2005, and the FBI knew of the e-mail exchanges between Hasan and al-Awlaki well before the attack, but it determined the psychiatrist was not a threat.

The new policy is supposed to go into effect in August, Gates said in his memo, which was based on recommendations made by an independent review panel that studied the Fort Hood shooting. Togo West Jr., secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department during the Clinton administration, headed up the committee.

The policy will establish procedures for identifying potential threats to Defense Department personnel, information and facilities through coordinated, but not defined, cyber counterintelligence activities, the memo said. The policy will help alert Defense's investigative groups of threat information discovered during counterintelligence operations on Defense networks, systems and computers, Gates said.

The West panel also determined Defense agencies and departments cannot share information on personnel or vehicles that have been granted access to military installations. In addition, they cannot exchange data on people barred from an individual installation. The panel said security on bases is weakened because the military does not have access to the National Crime Information Center or the Terrorist Threat Screening Database.

Gates said in his memo the services have started projects to check databases if someone has access to a specific base and they have connected with law enforcement databases such as the NCIC and the terrorist threat database. But the memo suggested these improvements depend on funding, saying they face "resource constraints."

He also endorsed the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange, which the Navy first developed in 2004 to share information with local agencies with plans to fully deploy the system next year.

In addition, Gates directed Defense to adopt by September the FBI's eGuardian terrorist threat reporting system to share information on suspected terrorist threats with civilian agencies, and state and local law enforcement organizations.