When the 9/11 terrorist attack struck the United States, it shocked everyone, not only because of the lives lost but the fact that such an act of aggression was committed on United States territory. As the investigations continued, questions arose as to how intelligence agencies missed evident signs of a planned attack and the presence of dangerous individuals in the country. A significant reason that the attacks were not prevented is attributed to the failure of information sharing among intelligence and security agencies, requiring a desperate need to update models for exchanging vital data.
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Two distinct examples of intelligence failure leading to the 9/11 attacks will be described. First, the CIA, who was tracking two well-known Al-Qaeda operatives that ended up participating in the attacks, failed to notify the FBI or other security agencies when it was determined that these suspects entered the United States. Despite agents on the case drafting a report to notify the FBI, they were ordered by CIA leadership to hold off and unable to do anything as it was a matter of classified information. This occurred with other known terrorists as well despite obvious evidence pointing to their travels to the US. Another instance is when contacts in the State Department working closely with Saudi officials learned that there was a threat against the US, with known information regarding potential financing of terrorists on a mission for Osama bin Laden. The connections between the Saudis and future hijackers were ignored due to potential political reasons, and the information was not shared with relevant security agencies to pursue loose ends (Stein, 2015).
Information Sharing Model
The commission report introduces two recommendations and revamped information sharing models to improve intelligence operations. The first is a decentralized network model, which is based on horizontal information sharing and incentivizes agencies to exchange data and establish a balance. This would ensure the creation of a unified database in addition to already existing individual agency databases. This trust information network would provide proper access and rights management but would allow for greater multi-agency collaboration and using information collected by other entities to help in potential cases (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004).
The second model builds off the first suggestion but also entails its own independent component. It is recommended that the presidential administration lead a government-wide effort to information sharing among intelligence and security institutions. This would be a multifaceted approach, requiring the creation of networking and digital infrastructure. Furthermore, it would be necessary to establish competent and safe standards to interagency information sharing, extending information collection and database access to public and private-sector entities and databases. Furthermore, the political and legal challenges need to be navigated as to the rules of law to acquire, access, share and store a significant amount of public data. An information-sharing network can be a powerful tool in identifying threats but requires leadership and guidance to prevent abuse (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004).
There are technological capabilities in the modern day to fulfill both of these recommendations in full. Database technology has progressed tremendously, allowing for the creating of secure multiplex servers with complex encryption, permissions, data categorization, tracing, and even artificial intelligence capabilities, which would allow tracking certain indicators and flag them. Private-sector technology companies have evolved and innovated such platforms, creating database architectures that would be able to freely manage information exchange while constantly evolving security parameters and vulnerability metrics (Cisco, 2016). Meanwhile, the second solution resembles the already data collection and organization system utilized by the National Security Agency through its PRISM network. There are capabilities to acquire, access, and store tremendous amounts of private and public data. However, with the public backlash due to leaks, it is necessary to instill accountability and leadership as suggested with the help of a security initiative by a presidential administration as well as facilitate greater exchange with other intelligence agencies.
The best model to prevent terrorist attacks would be the first one focusing on horizontal information sharing and creating a centralized network of exchange among agencies. Based on the available information and accounts of 9/11 and other national security attacks or threats, it seems that it was not a lack of available information but rather poor coordination and cooperation among agencies. If all available pieces of information were available and combined as was done post the attack, it was likely that the threat would have been identified earlier and prevented. Therefore, a solution that focuses greater on creating a database with appropriate tools for a competent and safe exchange of information among agencies would be more effective. It would encompass the strategic components and incentives to participate in such horizontal cooperation across the board to address domestic and international security threats. Also, it would not have to face the legal and political challenges that the other model entails. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the national security community to adopt an approach that promotes transparency, cooperation, and a detailed focus on information sharing to potentially fill intelligence gaps in the existing individual agency databases.
It is evident that failure to share information and lack of interagency cooperation was a significant cause as to why the 9/11 terrorist attacks were not prevented despite numerous red flags. Detailed intel-exchange was non-existent due to lack of coordination and bureaucratic in-fighting. Two models are offered regarding potential information technology solutions that could enhance coordination and data sharing with practical capabilities and benefits discussed. The terrorist attacks changed the course of history and reformed intelligence communities, but further action is needed to prevent threats.
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Cisco. (2016). Unified security metrics. Web.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (2004). 9/11 commission report. Web.
Stein, J. (2015). The inside information that could have stopped 9/11. Newsweek. Web.