Improved Info Sharing: A Path Forward

07.14.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The need to improve the dissemination of terrorism-related information was among the preeminent policy lessons of September 11.

Yet five years later, “systematic, trusted information sharing remains more of an aspiration than a reality,” according to a new task force report from the Markle Foundation.

The report proposes a new conceptual framework for authorizing and promoting information sharing, based on the information’s intended uses rather than its bureaucratic origin or other incidental characteristics.

This would permit each agency to get the information it needs to perform its mission, the authors say, while allowing auditing to ensure proper use and instill public confidence.

The Markle task force report also calls for a new approach to national security classification policy that is more tolerant of potential disclosure risks so as to permit more effective sharing.

“Current classification procedures and practices… overemphasize the risks of inadvertent disclosure over those from failing to share.”

“We recommend a new risk management approach to handling classified and other sensitive information that gives adequate weight to the risks of not sharing, and provides greater flexibility and more emphasis on mitigating the risks of disclosure.”

The authors stress the need for a transparent policy development process.

“In the absence of public confidence that personal information is being used effectively, appropriately, and consistently with both applicable laws and shared expectations of privacy, the necessary public support will not be forthcoming, and even the most promising intelligence systems will fail.”

The task force does not envision the general public as a consumer of terrorism-related information and so it does not contemplate measures to improve public disclosure of such information, whether classified or unclassified.

And in an overview of information sharing policy development, the report neglects a few recent innovations that are at least modestly consistent with its recommendations, such as the 2003 executive order provision (sec. 4.2b) that permits emergency disclosure of classified information to non-cleared persons, and the “RELIDO” marking that delegates disclosure authority for intelligence information beyond the originator.

Overall, however, the Markle task force report provides an intelligent account of a vexing set of issues. And it has the great virtue of going beyond critique to propose potentially workable solutions as well as a process for implementing and refining them.

See “Mobilizing Information to Prevent Terrorism: Accelerating Development of a Trusted Information Sharing Environment” (pdf), Third Report of the Markle Foundation Task Force chaired by Zoe Baird and James Barksdale, July 13.

As if to validate the most pessimistic view of the state of information sharing, the Baltimore Sun reported that a White House initiative to strengthen sharing by standardizing the use of “sensitive but unclassified” markings is off track and behind schedule.

See “Turf war hampers war on terror” by Siobhan Gorman, Baltimore Sun, July 13.