DEA Using IT To Cut Ties Between Drugs And Terrorism

Drug Intelligence Fusion Center will provide agents with data from other federal agencies, including the FBI and Homeland Security.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Monday highlighted its strategy for enlisting IT in its fight to keep narcotics operations from funding terrorist groups worldwide. By the middle of next year, the DEA plans to launch its Drug Intelligence Fusion Center, a centralized resource that will make intelligence from the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies available to agents via a single interface.

"There is an unequivocal connection between drugs and terrorism," Michael Braun, the DEA's acting assistant administrator for intelligence said Monday at an exhibit in New York designed to drive home this point. The DEA's "Arresting Narcoterrorism" exhibit occupies the first two floors of a wedge-shaped building in Times Square. The building's glass-paneled walls give passers-by a clear view of the exhibit's 9/11 tribute, life-size renderings that illustrate crude drug-processing facilities, and a gallery of villains and victims.

Of the 39 foreign terrorist organizations tracked by the U.S. State Department, 17 are funded by illegal drug manufacturing and sales, Braun added.

The DEA, whose fiscal 2005 budget is $2.14 billion, has been working on ways to share field intelligence with other federal agencies as well as state and local law enforcement. The administration, along with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service, in 1974 set up the El Paso Intelligence Center to track drug movement and immigration violations along the U.S.-Mexico border. More than a decade ago, the DEA introduced a supercomputer from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support multiagency efforts to analyze data from wiretapping operations, Braun said.

These early efforts to bring IT to bear on the problem of drug trafficking in the United States--Braun said Americans spend $64 billion annually on illegal drugs--lacked a single user interface and integrated query engine. Agents today often retrieve data from several different secure desktops, each connected to a different database, and then analyze printouts to help them connect the dots. Although Braun didn't provide much detail about the new system, he said its query tool initially will be able to search reports from several federal agencies. State and local law-enforcement databases will be added at a later date.

The DEA's planned fusion center is another step in the federal government's mandate to improve cross-agency data sharing, Ralph Utley, Homeland Security's acting counternarcotics officer, said Monday. It cost the 9/11 terrorists $500,000 to carry out their plan, said Utley, whose job is to disrupt funding that can be used for future attacks.

"Intelligence, IT, and [narcotics] interdiction are all related today," Utley said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government has covered a lot of ground regarding data sharing. "It's not happening fast," says Jeff Vining, a Gartner analyst who covers homeland security and law enforcement, "but it is happening."

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