The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks offers stark and sometimes painful reminders of a once-unthinkable assault on our homeland. Ten years later, our hearts go out to the survivors and to those who lost family and friends.
As we honor their sacrifice and courage, we should also acknowledge what we have learned since that tragic day. At a time when it seems Washington can no longer work, one of the lessons we can take from the decade since 9/11 is that, in fact, in the area of counter terrorism, Washington has worked.
In a recent Op-Ed in The Washington Post, Markle President Zoe Baird Budinger and Markle Task Force member Jeff Smith outline some of the steps our government has taken over the last decade to improve our use of intelligence and information, in the process improving our ability to prevent terrorism. In the Op-Ed, titled A Lesson of 9/11: Washington Can Work, they write:
Since 9/11, there has been a virtual reorganization of government, a new way of thinking that inspires reform in the way agencies, people, and technology collaborate and communicate. The “need-to-know” culture is being replaced by a “need-to-share” principle; information is increasingly decentralized and distributed. Informal and flexible groups of analysts from different parts of government and the private sector are able to work together and share expertise.
The changes brought by this virtual reorganization, Baird Budinger and Smith argue, have brought a new flexibility and openness that allowed the Defense Department and CIA to work together to find Osama bin Laden. It is also how the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the New York and Denver police departments worked together in 2009 to stop an al-Qaeda plot to bomb the New York City subway system.
The Op-Ed seeks to highlight the process of “virtual reorganization” that has changed how people, agencies, and departments use technology to collaborate and cooperate across what had previously been insurmountable boundaries. It shows the critical difference that such cooperation has made in the fight against terrorism. In doing so, the Op-Ed reiterates the central message issued by the Markle Task Force, which has long argued for better information sharing and improved collaboration. Many of the Markle Task Force’s suggestions and recommendations have been enacted through legislation or executive orders, yet more work remains to be done.
In particular, the Op-Ed states that:
Progress in counterterrorism must continue to ensure that information can be located by analysts who need it, regardless of which agency has it. The concept of “discoverability” must come with the principle of “authorized use” so that before analysts can access the information, they must establish that they are “authorized” to use the data based on their role, mission, and a predicated purpose. When combined with strong protections of individual liberties and privacy, it minimizes the risk to American civil liberties and the security of the information.
Read more about the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age and the key suggestions for further implementation, including those related to discoverability, authorized use, and the importance of improving information sharing while protecting civil liberties.