It’s been more than a decade since the 9/11 Commission report highlighted poor information-sharing among law enforcement and national security agencies, but FBI officials still aren’t doing enough of it, a government watchdog said Thursday.
“We found that when the private sector shares information with the FBI, it is perceived by the private sector as akin to sending information into a black hole because they often do not know what becomes of it,” reported the Department of Justice Inspector General.
“Additionally, information the FBI shares with the private sector is often considered by the recipients to be not useful because it is already known, lacks context, or is outdated,” the IG said, adding that the private sector also believes “that the FBI over-classifies its information,” which causes stale and “scrubbed” documents.
Poor information sharing was of the main reasons the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center weren’t prevented, the 9/11 Commission reported 11 years ago.
The FBI launched its Next Generation Cyber Initiative in October 2012 to strengthen its cybersecurity measures, which the bureau considers a top concern, and budgeted more than $300 million and 1,300 positions for the effort, according to a Department of Justice inspector general report released Thursday.
The bureau, however, won’t cooperate with partnering private sector entities by exchanging cyber intrusion information.
FBI officials said they couldn’t share some information pertaining to ongoing investigations, but the IG responded that “when the FBI fails to exchange information on an ongoing basis with the private sector, the private sector’s ability to address and mitigate threats in a timely manner may be hindered.”
The new IG report was not entirely negative toward the FBI’s efforts, however. Information sharing has improved among members of the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, which “serves as a coordination, integration and information sharing center among 19 U.S. agencies and international representatives for cyber threat information,” the report said.
The task force, however, couldn’t measure how fast information was shared.
The FBI’s uncooperative practices, along with Edward Snowden’s massive leak of highly classified and confidential information and data from the National Security Agency, created distrust and a reluctance for the private sector to share information with the government.
“The FBI continues to face challenges relating to information sharing with private sector entities, in part because of concerns in the private sector about privacy and the security of sensitive information it shares with the government,” IG Michael Horowitz said in a video released in conjunction with the report.
Private sector representatives also told the IG they were concerned about how information given to the FBI would be used.
The FBI also faces a recruiting problem because of its inability to attract qualified staff and recruit state and local law enforcement for help.
“We found that the FBI faces challenges when competing with the private sector to hire and retain highly qualified cybersecurity personnel, including computer scientists,” Horowitz said.
The FBI struggled to compete with the private sector to hire qualified candidates because the private sector pays more and has less extensive background checks.
For example, only 2,000 of 5,000 FBI applicants may be qualified, but the bureau would ultimately hire only two, the report said.
An example of the extensive background checks the IG listed is the FBI’s requirement that employees “must not have used marijuana in the past three years and cannot have used any other illegal drug in the past 10 years,” the report said.
“The FBI has also had difficulty attracting state and local law enforcement agencies to participate in these local Cyber Task Forces,” Horowitz said.
State and local law enforcement agencies often won’t join task forces because they believe cyber intrusions are a federal concern, or they don’t have the staff to dedicate to such technical issues.
Digital threats, however, “will become more of an issue” for law enforcement agencies “in the near future,” and will be felt at the state and local level, the report said.
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