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Friday, January 14, 2011

The National Counterterrorism Center(NCTC)—Responsibilities and Potential Congressional Concerns

Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was established in 2004 to ensure that information from any source about potential terrorist acts against the U.S. could be made available to analysts and that appropriate responses could be planned. Investigations of the 9/11 attacks had demonstrated that information possessed by different agencies had not been shared and thus that disparate indications of the looming threat had not been connected and warning had not been provided. As a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NCTC is composed of analysts with backgrounds in many government agencies and has access to various agency databases. It prepares studies ranging from strategic assessments of potential terrorist threats to daily briefings and situation reports. It is also responsible, directly to the President, for planning (but not directing) counterterrorism efforts. The NCTC received a statutory charter in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458); it currently operates with a staff of some 600 analysts from a headquarters in northern Virginia. The NCTC Director is appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Although there have been a number of arrests of individuals suspected of planning terrorist attacks in the U.S., two incidents in 2009—the assassination by an Army Major of some 13 individuals at Fort Hood Army Base on November 5, 2009, and the failed attempt to trigger a bomb on an airliner approaching Detroit on December 25, 2009—contributed to increased concern about counterterrorism capabilities domestically and internationally. An Executive Branch assessment of the December bombing attempt concluded that, whereas information sharing had been adequate, analysts had failed to “connect the dots” and achieve an understanding of an ongoing plot. Attention has focused on the NCTC which is responsible for ensuring both the sharing of information and for all-source analysis of terrorist issues.

A review by the Senate Intelligence Committee released in May 2010 found there were systemic failures across the Intelligence Community and, in particular, that the NCTC was inadequately organized and resourced for its missions. In addition, the committee concluded that intelligence analysts (not only those in NCTC) tended to focus more on threats to U.S. interests in Yemen than on domestic threats.

Date of Report: January 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41022
Price: $29.95

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