National Security Agencies Fail To Protect U.S.

by JIM KOURI, CPP June 19, 2010
The following is based on a report from the U.S. Congress obtained by the 14,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police.
Recent terrorist events such as the attempted bomb attacks in New York's Times Square and aboard an airliner on Christmas Day 2009 are reminders that national security challenges have expanded beyond the traditional threats of the Cold War Era to include unconventional threats from non-state actors.
Today's threats are diffuse and ambiguous, making it difficult -- if not impossible -- for any single federal agency to address them alone. Effective collaboration among multiple agencies and across federal, state, and local governments is critical.
Nearly a decade after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, government agencies charged with protecting the nation from terrorism can’t seem to get their act together, repeatedly failing to adequately shield the U.S. from threats mainly because they won’t work together.
This shameful negligence has been well documented in various government reports over the years yet little has been done to improve the situation. Several different probes conducted after the 2001 terrorist attacks have exposed a huge power struggle between U.S. Homeland Security and defense agencies that refuse to collaborate with each other to adequately protect the nation.
The investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reveals that the problem persists with few signs of improvement. In an alarming 26-page report, investigators write about the ongoing failures of Homeland Security agencies, the U.S. military and law enforcement to work together to fulfill the crucial mission of shielding the U.S. from foreign threats.
Recently, General Accountability Office officials gave testimony to U.S. Congress members highlighting what opportunities available to strengthen interagency collaboration. Their testimony focused on four key areas: (1) developing overarching strategies, (2) creating collaborative organizations, (3) developing a well-trained workforce, and (4) improving information sharing.
Federal agencies have an opportunity to enhance collaboration by addressing long-standing problems and better positioning the U.S. government to respond to changing conditions and future uncertainties. Progress has been made in enhancing interagency collaboration, but success will require leadership commitment, sound plans that set clear priorities, and measurable goals.
The agencies involved in national security will need to make concerted efforts to forge strong and collaborative partnerships, and seek coordinated solutions that leverage expertise and capabilities across communities.
Although some agencies have developed or updated overarching strategies on national security-related issues, GAO's work has identified cases where U.S. efforts have been hindered by the lack of information on roles and responsibilities of organizations involved or coordination mechanisms.
Organizational differences -- including differences in agencies' structures, planning processes, and funding sources -- can hinder interagency collaboration. Agencies lack adequate coordination mechanisms to facilitate this collaboration during planning and execution of programs and activities.
Agencies do not always have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs at the right time to meet the challenges they face--including having a workforce that is able to quickly address crises. Moreover, agency performance management systems often do not recognize or reward interagency collaboration, and training is needed to understand other agencies' processes or cultures.
U.S. government agencies do not always share relevant information with their national security partners due to a lack of clear guidelines for sharing information and security clearance issues. Additionally, incorporating information drawn from multiple sources poses challenges to managing and integrating that information.
Strengthening interagency collaboration -- with leadership as the foundation -- can help transform U.S. government agencies and create a more unified, comprehensive approach to national security issues at home and abroad, according to the GAO testimony. Contributing Editor Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a columnist for The Examiner ( and New Media Alliance (  In addition, he's a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB ( Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty. 

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