The image of urgent, every-second-counts cooperation by U.S. intelligence agencies fighting terrorism takes a modest hit from a new Justice Department internal audit out Monday.
In a review of Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence operations, the Justice Department inspector general found DEA analysts sometimes took months to cable terror-related intelligence obtained by DEA agents to partner agencies.
Justice IG Glenn A. Fine's team reviewed a sample of three terror-related interagency DEA cables, according to the report, which noted DEA has reported taking steps to fix the problem.
One DEA cable reviewed by Fine's staff alerted outside agencies to Stinger missiles and other weapons being sold by a terror leader for use against coalition forces. Two were on how the Taliban was using drug sales to finance terror activities, and identifying a "significant terrorist cell training and operations in a specific district in Afghanistan."
Those cables took between 39 and 76 days each to prepare and share with other agencies, auditors found.
DEA's intelligence chief Anthony Placido acknowledged the issue, Fine reported, but said, "The information was nevertheless immediately passed informally to the appropriate agencies."
Apparently, Fine was not comforted.
"In our judgment, this informal method of passing along crucial information does not provide assurance that all responsible parties were notified, that sufficient details were provided, or that the information was disseminated appropriately," he wrote. "While we understand the need to properly review cables, we are concerned that the highest priority cables were not transmitted to the appropriate agencies expeditiously."
The process of distributing intelligence within DEA itself is slow, auditors said. After supervisors review draft intelligence reports, they are distributed by hand to other departments in DEA to review. The purpose of the reviews, DEA officials told Fine's auditors, was to ensure the information in the reports did not compromise other ongoing investigations or put agents at risk.
Since the report was prepared, DEA told Fine it has taken steps to accelerate its process of approving intelligence cables. Terror-related reports would be distributed to other agencies within a week after they are drafted, DEA said -- and "potential imminent terrorist threat information" would be disseminated "within 24-48 hours."