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Background and the Current Environment

One clear lesson of September 11 was the need to improve the sharing of information. To prevent further attacks and to protect the homeland, we need to stay a step ahead of those individuals and organizations intent upon harming America. Key to preventing future attacks is the gathering of information about terrorist risks and threats and then ensuring that the information gets into the hands of those whose responsibility it is to protect our communities and critical infrastructure. In the past six years, we have achieved significant accomplishments in our efforts to improve information sharing, and we are well positioned in the current environment to build upon those past accomplishments as we move forward.

What has been accomplished since the September 11 attacks?

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, our Nation began a historic transformation aimed at preventing future attacks and improving our ability to protect and defend our people and institutions at home and abroad. As a result, we are now better informed of terrorist intentions and plans and better prepared to detect, prevent, and respond to their actions. Improved intelligence collection and analysis have helped paint a more complete picture of the threat, while more information sharing has provided us a greater capacity for coordinated and integrated action.

  • We worked with the Congress to adopt, implement, and renew key reforms like the USA PATRIOT Act that remove barriers that once restricted the sharing of information between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, while at the same time protecting our fundamental liberties.
  • We established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in part to improve the sharing of information among Federal, State, and local government agencies and the private sector, in order to enhance our Nation's ability to detect, identify, understand, and assess terrorist threats to and vulnerabilities of the homeland to better protect our Nation's critical infrastructure, integrate our emergency response networks, and link State and Federal governments.
  • We reorganized the Intelligence Community. The position of Director of National Intelligence was created to serve as the President's chief intelligence advisor and the head of the Intelligence Community and to ensure closer coordination and integration of the 16 agencies that make up the Intelligence Community.
  • We established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to serve as a multi-agency center analyzing and integrating all intelligence pertaining to terrorism, including threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad.
  • We worked to develop an Information Sharing Environment (ISE) to enhance the sharing of terrorism-related information among Federal, State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector. The President designated a Program Manager for the ISE to lead these efforts. The President also issued guidelines to inform the continued development of the ISE.
  • We have worked to achieve the objectives set out in the President's guidelines by devising and instituting various initiatives designed to improve information sharing both at the Federal level and with our partners at the State, local, and tribal level, as well as with our foreign partners, while simultaneously taking great care to ensure that mechanisms are in place to protect the information privacy and other legal rights of Americans.
  • We established the Terrorist Screening Center to consolidate terrorist watch lists and provide around-the-clock operational support for Federal and other law enforcement personnel across the country.
  • We have provided significant grant funding to support the establishment of State and major urban area information fusion centers. Fusion centers coordinate the gathering, analysis, and sharing of criminal intelligence, public safety information, and other information related to terrorism within specific States or localities. As of September 1, 2007, 58 fusion centers have either been established or are in the process of being established.
  • We have brought about significant growth and maturation of the 101 Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) in major cities throughout the United States. The JTTFs have substantially contributed to improved information sharing and operational capabilities at the State and municipal levels.
  • The Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have worked with the Director of National Intelligence to create the FBI National Security Branch by merging the FBI Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence Divisions with the newly established Directorates of Intelligence and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Establishment of the Directorate of Intelligence and of Field Intelligence Groups in every FBI field office exemplify the FBI's major steps to transform itself into a preeminent domestic counterterrorism agency.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security has appointed a Chief Intelligence Officer responsible for integrating the intelligence activities of all DHS components.
  • We have established the U.S. Northern Command within the Department of Defense (DoD) to plan, organize, and execute military, homeland defense, and civil support missions in the continental United States, Alaska, and offshore waters.
  • The National Guard Bureau has completed a major organizational transformation including establishment of the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff focused on Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission requirements and the creation of a single Joint Force Headquarters in each of the States and Territories.
  • DHS has expanded the Homeland Security Information Network, a computer-based counterterrorism communications network, to all 50 States, five territories, the District of Columbia, and 50 other major urban areas to strengthen the two-way flow of threat information among Federal, State, local, and tribal officials. Additionally, DHS is streamlining and merging its disparate classified networks into a single, integrated network called the Homeland Secure Data Network, to provide classified access to State, local, and tribal governments.
  • The Department of State has initiated a Visa and Passport Security Program and Strategic Plan to target and disrupt individuals or organizations worldwide that are involved in the fraudulent production, distribution, or use of visas and passports, or other similar activities, intended to aid unlawful entry into the United States.
  • The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has enhanced the Rewards for Justice Program to encourage reporting to authorities with tips, leads, and other information critical to preventing or favorably resolving acts of international terrorism against U.S. persons or property worldwide.
  • The Department of Treasury has worked to upgrade and enhance its classified communications networks to be fully compatible with the Intelligence Community's in order to ensure that information related to terrorist financing and other national security threats related to financial crime are safely and efficiently communicated to and coordinated with the Intelligence Community.

Through these and other efforts, the United States and its coalition partners have made significant strides against al-Qaida, its affiliates, and others who threaten us. Collaboration and information sharing have helped limit the ability of al-Qaida and like-minded terrorist groups to operate successfully. We have uncovered and eliminated numerous threats to our citizens and to our friends and allies. We have disrupted terrorist plots, arrested operatives, captured or killed senior leaders, and strengthened the capacity of the Nation to confront and defeat our adversaries.

Continuing Challenges

We are engaged in what some have termed "a long war," or a "protracted conflict," and our enemy has proved to be adept at evolving and adapting his tactics. Internationally, al-Qaida remains the most serious threat to the Homeland as its central leaderships continues to plan high impact attacks while pushing others in extremist communities to mimic its efforts and supplement its capabilities. Its leadership is being reconstituted, and new jihadists are being recruited and trained daily. Additionally, the spread of radical internet sites, increasingly aggressive anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions, and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West's Muslim population is expanding. As a result, the Untied States will continue to face ideologically committed extremists determined to attack our interests at home and abroad.

Serious challenges lie ahead, including defeating the enemy, denying safe haven, combating violent extremist ideologies, and protecting the homeland. For the foreseeable future, those challenges will continue to be a top priority for the Federal Government on all fronts – intelligence, diplomatic, homeland security, law enforcement, and defense.

While these instruments of our national power are mighty, the nature of the global threat, as well as the emergence of homegrown extremists, require that State, local, and tribal governments incorporate counterterrorism activities as part of their daily efforts to provide emergency and non-emergency services to the public. These partners are now a critical component of our Nation's security capability as both "first preventers" and "first responders," and their efforts have achieved concrete results within their communities, as the following examples illustrate:

  • A narcotics investigation – conducted by Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials and resulting in multiple arrests – revealed that a Canadian-based organization supplying precursor chemicals to Mexican methamphetamine producers was in fact a Hezbollah support cell.
  • A local police detective investigating a gas station robbery uncovered a homegrown jihadist cell planning a series of attacks.
  • An investigation into cigarette smuggling initiated by a county sheriff's department uncovered a Hezbollah support cell operating in several States.

To combat and prevent terrorist actions effectively we must first acquire knowledge about their organizations' plans, intentions, and tactics, and then ensure that such knowledge is available to those responsible for preventing and responding to attacks. The Intelligence Community will continue to be a primary source for this information; however, the Intelligence Community must modify its processes and procedures to encompass non-traditional customers at all levels of government with roles in prevention and response. In addition, important information regarding possible attack planning may come from organizations outside the Intelligence Community. Our challenge is to ensure that information from all sources is brought to bear on our efforts to protect our people and infrastructure from terrorist attacks.

Today, the sharing of terrorism-related information takes place within multiple independent sharing environments that serve five communities—intelligence, law enforcement, defense, homeland security, and foreign affairs. Historically, each community developed its own policies, rules, standards, architectures, and systems to channel information to meet mission requirements. These environments were insulated from one another, which resulted in gaps and seams in the sharing of information across all levels of government.

Recognizing these significant challenges, the Congress passed and the President signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Among other things, the law called for the creation of the ISE to enable trusted partnerships among all levels of government, the private sector, and our foreign partners, in order to more effectively detect, prevent, disrupt, preempt, and mitigate the effects of terrorism against the territory, people, and interests of the United States. This partnership will enable the trusted, secure, and appropriate exchange of terrorism-related information across the Federal Government, to and from State, local, and tribal governments, foreign allies, and the private sector, and at all levels of security classifications.

Through this Strategy and the use of the ISE we will:

  • Enable greater coordination at the Federal level, so that strategic and time-sensitive threat information gets into the hands of those who need it to protect our local communities and our Nation's interests at home and abroad;
  • Facilitate the exchange of coordinated sets of requirements and information needs across the Federal and non-Federal domains to help guide the targeting, selection, and reporting of terrorism-related information;
  • Make certain that intelligence products can be easily shared, as appropriate, with those outside the Intelligence Community, such as other Federal entities, State, local, tribal, and foreign governments, and the private sector;
  • Enable State, local, and tribal government efforts to gather, process, analyze, and share information and intelligence;
  • Establish a network of State and local information fusion centers operating in a manner that safeguards information privacy rights and other legal rights of Americans;
  • Ensure our efforts to prevent future terrorist attacks are risk-based, information-driven, and supported by a greater understanding of our adversaries' motivations, intentions, and plans; and
  • Change government culture to one in which information is regularly and responsibly shared and only withheld by exception.

Although the effort to implement the ISE is well underway, it is essential for implementation activities to take place within a broader strategic context. The sections that follow describe in more detail the current environment, the key elements of our National Strategy, and the actions we will take to achieve our vision.

Legislative and Regulatory Background

On August 27, 2004, the President issued two Executive Orders pertinent to this Strategy. Executive Order 13354 established the NCTC as "the primary organization in the United States Government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States Government pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism [with the exception of] purely domestic counterterrorism information." Executive Order 13356 was aimed directly at strengthening the sharing of terrorism information to protect Americans. Specifically, the President directed agencies to give the "highest priority" to the prevention of terrorism and the "interchange of terrorism information [both] among agencies" and "between agencies and appropriate authorities of States and local governments." The President further directed that this improved information sharing be accomplished in ways that "protect the freedom, information
privacy, and other legal rights of Americans."

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, enacted in December 2004, placed NCTC within the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The law directed NCTC to "serve as the primary organization in the United States Government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States Government pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism." In addition, NCTC serves as "the central and shared knowledge bank on known and suspected terrorists and international terror groups, as well as their goals, strategies, capabilities, and networks of contacts and support." The NCTC strives to ensure that agencies, as appropriate, receive and have access to the intelligence necessary to perform their counterterrorism missions.

Section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 directed the establishment of the ISE, which it defined as "an approach that facilitates the sharing of terrorism information." The President was charged to create the ISE, designate its organization and management structure, and determine and enforce the policies and rules to govern the ISE's content and usage. The law further required the ISE be "a decentralized, distributed, and coordinated environment" that "to the greatest extent practicable, … connects existing systems … ; builds upon existing systems capabilities currently in use across the Government; … facilitates the sharing of information at and across all levels of security; … and incorporates protections for individuals' privacy and civil liberties."

In addition, the law required the President designate a Program Manager for the ISE. The role of the Program Manager is to manage the ISE, oversee its implementation, assist in the development of ISE standards and practices, and monitor and assess its implementation by Federal departments and agencies. The law also established an Information Sharing Council to advise the President and the Program Manager on the development of ISE policies, procedures,
guidelines, and standards, and to ensure proper coordination among Federal departments and agencies participating in the ISE.

Accordingly, the President designated the Program Manager and directed that the Program Manager and his staff be located in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. On October 25, 2005, the President issued Executive Order 13388, superseding Executive Order 13356, to facilitate the work of the Program Manager, expedite the establishment of the ISE, and restructure the Information Sharing Council.

On December 16, 2005, in accordance with section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the President issued a Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies prescribing the guidelines and requirements in support of the creation and implementation of the ISE. In the December Memorandum, the President directed that the ISE be established by building upon "existing Federal Government policies, standards, procedures, programs, systems, and architectures (collectively "resources") used for the sharing and integration of and access to terrorism-related information, and … leverage those resources to the maximum extent practicable, with the objective of establishing a decentralized, comprehensive, and coordinated environment for the sharing and integration of such information." He also directed the heads of executive departments and agencies to "actively work to create a culture of information sharing within their respective departments or agencies by assigning personnel and dedicating resources to terrorism-related information sharing, by reducing disincentives to such sharing, and by holding their senior managers accountable for improved and increased sharing of such information."

The President's Memorandum also included five specific guidelines designed to advance the development and implementation of the ISE.

  • Guideline One: the President directed that common standards be developed "to maximize the acquisition, access, retention, production, use, management, and sharing of terrorism information within the ISE, consistent with the protection of intelligence, law enforcement, protective, and military sources, methods, and activities." These common standards, the President further directed, must accommodate and account for the need to improve upon the sharing of terrorism-related information with State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector.
  • Guideline Two: the President stressed that "war on terror must be a national effort" and therefore one in which State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector are afforded appropriate opportunities to participate as full partners in the ISE. Accordingly, he directed that a common framework be developed governing the roles and responsibilities of Federal departments and agencies relating to the sharing of terrorism information, homeland security information, and law enforcement information among Federal departments and agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, and private sector entities.
  • Guideline Three: the President directed a series of actions be undertaken to improve upon the sharing of Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU) information. Specifically, he directed the heads of particular departments and agencies to submit recommendations for the standardization of SBU procedures for marking and handling terrorism information, homeland security information, and law enforcement information, and eventually all other types of information shared within the ISE.
  • Guideline Four: the President recognized the imperative for the ISE to facilitate and support the appropriate exchange of terrorism information with our foreign partners and allies and, toward that end, directed the development of recommendations to achieve improved sharing in this area.
  • Guideline Five: the President directed, as he did earlier in Executive Order 13353, that the information privacy rights and other legal rights of Americans must be protected. Accordingly, he required guidelines be developed and submitted for approval to ensure such rights are protected in the implementation and operation of the ISE.

On November 16, 2006, pursuant to the President's delegation of authority, the Director of National Intelligence submitted to the Congress a report containing the Implementation Plan for the Information Sharing Environment. The ISE Implementation Plan, among other things, delineates how the President's guidelines and requirements will be implemented by drawing upon recommendations developed pursuant to those guidelines. The plan contains descriptions of the functions, capabilities, resources, and conceptual design of the ISE, a plan for deploying and operating the ISE, and a process for measuring implementation progress and performance. The plan, which is available on the Program Manager's website (, was developed through a collaborative effort among the Program Manager and the member organizations of the Information Sharing Council. It also incorporates the perspectives of representatives from State, local, and tribal governments who reviewed the ISE Implementation Plan Report during its development. Since the Plan's submission to the Congress, many of its action items have been implemented.

Most recently, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, enacted in August of this year, included amendments to section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The new law expands the scope of the ISE to explicitly include homeland security information and weapons of mass destruction information. It also endorses and formalizes many of the recommendations developed in response to the President's information sharing guidelines, such as the creation of the Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group, and the development of a national network of State and major urban area fusion centers.