Interagency Network Approach To Information Sharing In Combating Terrorism

The Crucial Role of Mediation in Resolving Disputes
February 2, 2023

Interagency Network Approach To Information Sharing In Combating Terrorism

Ismail Sahin, PhD

Global Center for Security Studies


The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks highlighted critical issues in information sharing among law enforcement agencies. The failure to track the movements leading to 9/11 was attributed to inadequate sharing of counter-terrorism information among different agencies (the U.S. Congress Report, 2002). Factors like organizational culture, resource limitations, and turf wars contributed to this deficiency. Terrorism’s asymmetric nature, technological advancements, and evolving terrorist structures pose challenges to security agencies, necessitating collaborative efforts.

The Al Qaeda’s Malaysia meeting exemplifies intelligence failure, where timely information could have thwarted the 9/11 plot. The CIA and FBI’s separate focuses and lack of collaboration showcase how differing missions hinder information sharing. The U.S. intelligence services were very close to demolishing the Al Qaeda plot. The CIA had tracked Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar until the meeting in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and knew that these two people had a U.S. visa that would enable them to enter the U.S. These two men would be followed after the meeting; however, CIA agents received the alert about two men too late, and the trail was unfortunately lost. On the other hand, the FBI started an investigation to identify the responsible terrorists after the attack on the USS Cole. The FBI focused on the name of Khallad as the number one suspect because the agents believed that Khallad and Midhar may be the same person. The FBI found out that Khallad and Midhar were the same people, in addition to one of the high-ranking Al Qaeda members. However, the two agencies did not put together separate pieces of intelligence. This lack of information sharing became a classic example of intelligence failure. The FBI focused on investigating a criminal case to figure out who was responsible for the case, while the CIA focused on broader intelligence purposes. This may be a good explanation of how agencies’ different missions and cultures can be barriers to information sharing (Gertz, 2002). Similarly, the 2003 Al-Qaeda bombings in Istanbul underscored problems in Turkish agencies’ information sharing.

Post-9/11, the Department of Homeland Security and initiatives like the Regional Information Sharing Systems aimed to enhance collaboration (Geller & Morris, 1992). However, doubts persist about the effectiveness of information sharing (the 9/11 Commission Report, 2004). This study delves into these issues, employing an inter-organizational network approach to analyze why organizations enter networks, their effectiveness, and how such networks can address information-sharing challenges. Overall, effective cooperation and information sharing remain vital components in the ongoing fight against terrorism in a complex and uncertain global environment.

A- Interorganizational Networks:

The evolving complexities of modern organizational environments have led to increased uncertainty and a growing need for collaboration (Weick, 2001; Scott, 2001; Kapucu, 2005). Interorganizational networks are considered effective responses to interconnected problems, as they formalize links among organizations facing common challenges. Networking involves making connections through various means, while network structures require active collaboration to address specific problems (Chisholm, 1998).

Organizations enter inter-organizational networks due to external factors like resource dependence and interdependence (Pfeffer & Salanic, 1978). Managing uncertainty and fulfilling resource needs drive organizations to form ties with others possessing relevant capabilities. Interorganizational networks help organizations mitigate dependence and uncertainty through cooperative ties (Gulati & Garguillo, 1999).

Network effectiveness depends on central coordination, with integrated and centrally coordinated networks deemed more effective than decentralized ones. Provan and Milward ( 1995) suggest indicators for evaluating network effectiveness, including membership growth, range of services, cost, and coordination. The structure of inter-organizational networks significantly influences cooperation motives, with factors like formalization, density, intensity, centrality, and stability playing key roles (Williams, 2005).

Williams (2005) emphasizes the importance of mutual trust, informal agreements, and moderate centrality in promoting cooperation within inter-organizational network structures. Studies by Foster-Fishman et al. (2001) highlight how interorganizational alliances facilitate information exchange, strengthen connections, and reduce organizational boundaries. Evaluating network effectiveness remains challenging, particularly in security-related organizations, but indicators such as relationship strength and commitment to goals provide insights.

In summary, the complex and uncertain nature of modern organizational environments necessitates inter-organizational collaboration, with network structures offering effective solutions to shared challenges, resource needs, and uncertainty management. The effectiveness of these networks relies on central coordination, specific structural variables, and indicators assessing their impact on member organizations and their goals.

B- Analysis

This analysis explores the concept of networks as multiple-organizational relations with voluntary information exchange and joint activities while maintaining individual autonomy. Significant events, such as the 9/11 attacks, drive communication and interaction among organizations, fostering the emergence of networks to address shared challenges. The aftermath of 9/11 led to increased cooperation among government agencies and the establishment of information-sharing networks, like the Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES). However, despite efforts to enhance information sharing, challenges persisted. JRIES, created by the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, aimed to connect local and federal law enforcement agencies, but its effectiveness in providing a broader information-sharing network was limited. The need for a virtual analytical unit and the varying information-sharing perspectives highlight ongoing complexities in achieving effective inter-organizational networks.

1- Interorganizational Network Model for Information Sharing

The success of a network hinges on its original design, emphasizing the need for a structure that governs information flow. Selecting an appropriate network model is crucial, with Eggers and Goldsmith (2004) advocating for collaborative knowledge networks featuring electronic gateways and interactive communities to foster ongoing information sharing. In combating terrorism, less centralized structures prove effective due to the unstable information environment and the challenge of evaluating vast data. Tindall (2006) suggests that a central entity can coordinate a network without sacrificing agency autonomy. Priorities in creating an information-sharing network include connecting members, sharing analysis results, and establishing effective information flow on a national scale. A centrally coordinated, loosely centralized approach is proposed, involving regional information-sharing centres linked to a central hub. This model enhances adaptability, quickens information sharing, and integrates networks, ensuring a more effective and responsive system for intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

2- Analysis of Information Sharing Problem in terms of Interorganizational Network Approach:

The challenges associated with information sharing, even when mandated by law, persist in various ways. Legislation, such as the Homeland Security Information Sharing Act of 2002, may not result in effective sharing due to underlying obstacles (Statement of the Hon. Jane Harman (2002). This analysis addresses key barriers hindering inter-organizational cooperation on information sharing:

Confidentiality Regulations: Strict regulations on information classification create reluctance among agencies to share data. Clear definitions and procedures within inter-organizational networks can mitigate this unwillingness by providing secure channels for information sharing and addressing concerns about violating regulations (Eyerman & Strom, 2006; Peterson (2002).

Financial Constraints: Inadequate funding to establish information-sharing infrastructure poses a significant barrier. Existing networks can reduce costs for agencies by providing shared IT resources. However, the absence of such networks makes it challenging for agencies to prioritize investing in information-sharing infrastructure over their immediate needs.

Organizational Culture: Unique organizational cultures among agencies create barriers to information sharing. Interorganizational networks foster interaction among diverse cultures, promoting understanding and collaboration. The shared environment encourages a shift in organizational culture towards recognizing the importance of information sharing (Landsbergen & Wolken, 1998; Eyerman & Strom, 2006).

Trust: Establishing trust between agencies is crucial for successful cooperation. Interorganizational networks facilitate communication, reducing uncertainty and building trust among agencies. Regular interactions and shared spaces enhance understanding and promote a cooperative atmosphere (Creed & Miles, 1996; Eggers & Goldsmith, 2004).

Resistance to Change: Leaders’ unwillingness to change existing practices acts as a barrier to information sharing. Interorganizational networks may necessitate changes in agency operations, leading to resistance. Demonstrating the benefits of collaboration and providing incentives can encourage leaders to embrace change.

Turf Wars: Agencies often desire autonomy in their operational areas, creating reluctance to share information. Interorganizational networks illustrate the necessity of collaboration in addressing common issues (Burbridge & Nightingale, 1989). By showcasing shared challenges and the value of information exchange, these networks help overcome turf-related barriers. According to the 9/11 Commission Report (2004), the turf war between the FBI and the CIA was the main reason of the failure to track the terrorists when they entered and moved within the U.S.

Competition for Resources: The competition for limited career positions among leaders can hinder information sharing. Agencies may prioritize personal gains over collaboration, affecting the willingness to share information (Peters, 1981). Interorganizational networks can mitigate this by creating shared spaces and reducing the need for individual agencies to compete for resources.

A good example is the presidential daily brief provided by the intelligence agencies. According to the Commission Report on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States (2005), the daily intelligence briefing delivered to President has become a platform at which intelligence agencies are in competition with each other. The report argues that the daily briefings seemed to be ‘selling’ intelligence in order to keep the president interested. However, this competition leads the agencies to devote the resources to influencing the president instead of using for productive activities.

Lack of Information Sharing Mechanisms: The absence of formalized communication channels and protocols inhibits effective information sharing (Eggers & Goldsmith, 2004). Interorganizational networks provide a structured framework with defined communication channels, eliminating ambiguity and ensuring a more efficient flow of information.

Addressing these barriers requires a combination of legislative reforms, financial support, cultural shifts, trust-building efforts, leadership commitment to change, collaborative networks, and well-defined information-sharing mechanisms. Interorganizational networks emerge as a critical tool in overcoming these challenges, providing a platform for effective and efficient information sharing among diverse agencies.


Over the past decades, significant terrorist attacks within last decades have led security agencies to change the way they fight terrorism dramatically. Recognizing the limitations of individual agency efforts, security agencies have increasingly emphasized the need for collaboration to combat terrorism effectively, given that criminal and terrorist activities transcend bureaucratic boundaries and jurisdictional borders. At the forefront of this cooperative approach is the crucial element of national-scale information sharing.

Following significant terrorist incidents, policymakers and executives at various levels have advocated for creating inter-organizational networks to address information-sharing challenges. Examples include regional law enforcement networks such as the Florida Integrated Network for Data Exchange and Retrieval (F.I.N.D.E.R), highlighting the potential impact of improved data sharing on preventing incidents like the September 11th attacks (, 2007).

The choice of the most suitable network model depends on diverse factors, including agency characteristics and the nature of the problems to be addressed. For information-sharing challenges between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, a centrally coordinated information network model, maintaining agency independence, appears more appropriate. This model, comprising regional centers and a central hub, facilitates the effective flow of information at both national and local levels.

Interorganizational networks not only enhance formal communication but also foster the development of social networks among personnel from different member agencies. These interactions contribute to the perception of a unified team, potentially leading to the emergence of informal networks that complement the formal structure.

Despite the potential advantages, challenges exist in building and maintaining inter-organizational networks. The process of establishing trust and relationships is time-consuming, requiring changes in agency operations that may face resistance. Additionally, the voluntary nature of participation emphasizes the importance of tangible benefits for the agencies involved. The potential for unmet short-term expectations may strain network relationships, jeopardizing the achievement of shared goals (Keast & Mandell & Brown & Woolcock, 2004).

Furthermore, maintaining relationships within a network presents challenges. Conflicts may arise over differing perceptions of information confidentiality, and some agencies may resist sharing information they deem unnecessary for their jurisdictions. These issues underscore the complexities involved in establishing and sustaining effective inter-organizational networks for information sharing in the context of counterterrorism efforts.


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