The Bush administration's Director of National Intelligence has put together a program that will allow all 16 U.S. spy agencies to share the sensitive information in their databases. It should prove to be an invaluable tool, particularly in preventing terrorist attacks.
It also should have been operational years ago. Such an effort should have begun with the Clinton administration.
As The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 22, what is planned is a system akin to Google that would allow analysts to search all of the connected databases. Intelligence officials now estimate requests for information result in only about 5 percent of the pertinent files being examined. The new system is expected to increase that to 95 percent.
One would think such a system would have been an obvious idea as soon as search engines appeared in the late 1990s. Most of the country has been Googling away since then; why not the high-tech spies?
Apparently bureaucracy took precedence. The Journal says that under the current system, even information that is found often is shared only after "protracted negotiations."
Moreover, it is now nearly five years since the 9/11 Commission castigated the intelligence services for failing to put together information already in the hands of various agencies to prevent the attacks. Much was known about the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers - a student pilot, for example, who was uninterested in learning how to take off or land - but no one agency had enough to see the larger picture.
Even so, the various bureaucracies involved appear to have viewed database sharing with no particular urgency. The 16 intelligence agencies involved agreed to creating the system only in September.
Nonetheless, when complete, it should be a godsend for analysts looking to prevent more attacks or track suspected terrorists. And that McConnell succeeded in getting it going before his departure is certainly to his credit. The new administration is expected to support the idea and to ensure it is fully funded.
Good. Then the incoming director, Dennis Blair, can work on straightening out a bureaucracy that would delay such an obviously desirable improvement.