DHS secretary promises more information sharing

The Homeland Security Department plans to improve how it shares intelligence information with federal, state and local government agencies, including working with state centers that collect terrorist and crime information, Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House Committee on Homeland Security on Wednesday.

She told the panel that a priority will be to increase the exchange of information with state and local governments, which criticized DHS during a September 2008hearing for not consistently sharing counterterrorism details and not establishing a central authority that promotes information sharing.

Napolitano said DHS should better utilize information collected by state fusion centers as part of its counterterrorism programs. The centers, which almost every state has created, collect information on terrorist threats from diverse sources such as criminal investigations, media reports and tips from the public. The centers consolidate the data to identify potential threats in their area. The 9/11 commission, which investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, recommended establishing the fusion centers.

"Intelligence and analysis is an important part of the overall work of the department," Napolitano said. "How do we make sure that we have integrated intelligence with state and local officials and are sharing information adequately and on a real-time basis? That is one area that will be a major focus. . . . As a former governor and state attorney general, I appreciate that need."

Rep. Peter King, R-Calif., said the intelligence community has withheld counterterrorism information from DHS since the department's formation in 2003. Napolitano expressed optimism that DHS would become more active in federal intelligence initiatives. "This is the first time there has been a transition of administrations where a Department of Homeland Security [is in place] from day one," she said. "I believe the department right now is fully a partner in intelligence sharing. And if it is not, I'll be fighting for that."

Committee members also encouraged Napolitano to increase the department's attention on cybersecurity. "If I were to review all the areas that we have worked on in Congress and the department in the last four years, the one area where we've done the least is in cybersecurity," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. The federal government should work more closely with the private sector to protect computer networks and systems, he said.

Napolitano said the Obama administration has focused on cybersecurity, including recently issuing a 60-day review of agencies' cybersecurity efforts, a continuation of a Bush administration initiative to reduce the number of Internet connections into federal networks, responding to network intrusions and implementing technology solutions to prevent intrusions. In her first weeks as secretary, Napolitano ordered DHS offices to submit reports outlining the state of cybersecurity in government.

"The private sector [is] not only our partner, but also our key consumer," she said. "While I can't tell you what the actual operative structure is going to be, I've instructed our cyber folks to make sure we're reaching out to all the various groups."