Information Sharing, By Hook or By Crook

10.12.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The disclosure of a clandestine network of U.S. military officers that diverted classified documents from military agencies and illegally provided them to law enforcement agencies serves as a vivid reminder that improved information sharing within the government is a goal that has still not been achieved.

“Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz said patriotism motivated him to join a spy ring, smuggle secret files from Camp Pendleton and give them to law enforcement officers for anti-terrorism work in Southern California,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last Saturday.

Sgt. Maziarz and his men acted like Robin Hood in the forest of national security information, taking classified documents from the cleared and giving them to the uncleared.

“He knew his group was violating national security laws,” the Union-Tribune reported. “But he said bureaucratic walls erected by the military and civilian agencies were hampering intelligence sharing and coordination, making the nation more vulnerable to terrorists.”

This is of course a self-serving story, and it doesn’t explain the stolen weapons or steroids found along with the pilfered documents by military investigators.

But neither is there any evidence so far of espionage on behalf of a foreign power, or any indication of a financial motive in stealing the records.

Taken at face value, the rise of the interagency document smugglers points to a continuing defect in government information policy. It also suggests that the national security classification system may break before it bends. In other words, it may fail catastrophically before it can be substantially reformed.

See “Marine Took Files as Part of Spy Ring” by Rick Rogers, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 6.

The story was also picked up today by the Los Angeles Times.

The failure to achieve optimal information sharing is not in dispute.

“Institutional rules and legacy culture continue to hamper effective information sharing,” a report (pdf) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence admitted yesterday.

“There are outdated policy, customs, and technical constraints on information access and dissemination that impede the production of finished products our customers require.”

See “500 Day Plan: Integration and Collaboration,” Office of Director of National Intelligence, October 2007.