Integrating IT central to renewed terrorism efforts

IT systems integration and information sharing between federal agencies is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed under the Prime Minister's review of intelligence agencies in the wake of the Bali bombings earlier this month, according to the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Hugh White.

Australia has come a long way in the last few years in improving IT systems and information sharing between government agencies, but there is still a long way to go, he said.

"We need a cross-agency intelligence effort brought together under one operational commander, but it is the wrong time for a big shake up that includes sackings, changing IT systems and setting up new institutions; that is more drama than we need," White said.

Proposing a counter-terrorism intelligence body with a single operational commander that has access across all agencies for a higher-level, coordinated effort in the wake of the Bali bombings, White believes Australia will be the target of a sustained campaign of terrorism in South East Asia.

Speaking at the Intel 2002 conference organised by the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers (AIPIO), White warned against adopting the 'department of homeland security model' employed by the US in the wake of September 11, because it is the "worst" possible solution to employ.

As part of the Bush Administration's homeland security initiatives, an integrated IT plan is being implemented to improve information sharing and data management. But homeland security information sharing is posing some problems because intelligence agencies are being asked for the first time to share information with agencies that sit outside their traditional boundaries.

White said: "We don't need to build new institutions," such as a homeland security department or introduce new legislation to facilitate Australia's renewed efforts.

He said the homeland security initiative in the US has simply been a case of changing letterhead and signs on doors, but not changing the way the intelligence community actually works.

White said banks and other financial institutions have a role to play in this process as a lot of valuable information is held by the private sector and they were already active in identifying the movement of terrorist funds.

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