A recent terror hoax alleging an al Qaeda plot to explode dirty bombs at seven National Football League (NFL) stadiums shed light on public-private information sharing systems developing in the domestic war on terror. Wisconsin grocery clerk Jake Brahm, the originator of the Internet-posted canard, was found to have no ties to terror groups. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially contacted the NFL regarding the uncorroborated threat.

The relevancy of intelligence sharing and analysis is applicable to various threats: natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes, traditional crime such as organized retail theft and terrorism of domestic and foreign groups acting on U.S. soil. As Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff noted in October 2006 at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference, “The best tool in dealing with homegrown terrorists is intelligence—collection, analysis and sharing.”


The information—whether in oral, written, audio or photo form—can be gathered and disseminated by the government to the industry, or vice versa. When the public sector is the source, the content often relates to real or emerging threats. Public sector sources may warn of new terror practices such as operations, funding and recruitment methodologies in order for government officials to practice preventative measures.

Having extricated classified, secret materials, the redacted content is shared with a specific company that could be industry-wide, regional or national, depending on the circumstances. Should the private sector contact government officials regarding a possible terror nexus, the information often rests on actions in line with government warnings, suspicious activity, threatening conduct or actual crimes.


Who benefits from the dissemination of relevant, actionable security-related information? Clearly, society as a whole benefits from information sharing, including government entities, industries and civilians. With relevant information sharing, threats are reduced or eliminated and perpetrators are often apprehended.

As information sharing can relate to pre-incidents, incidents in action and post-incidents, many outcomes inevitably arise. We learned of pre-incident information shared by a Minnesota flight school to the FBI about the alleged 20th hijacker Zacharias Moussouai. Financial institutions that told regulators about narco-terror money launderers made an example of an incident in action warning. Post-incidents include the Ryder truck personnel’s description confirmation of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Lessons learned from such cooperative activities should be shared so that we are better equipped to face future threats.

Other examples of information sharing scenarios include: a self-storage facility taking notice of unusual activity, like unloading large quantities of chemicals, explosives or gasoline at a site; the sale of large amounts of ammonium nitrate from a rural supplies store; or the acquisition of hundreds of disposable cell phones paid in cash at a retailer. Strange or troubling behavior that has been reported by a concerned source deserves a closer look.


An ever-growing list of public-private information sharing partnerships targeting traditional crime and terrorism include the FBI’s InfraGard, various DHS programs with American Society of Industrial Security, Business Roundtable and specific sectors under the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, Carnegie Mellon University’s information security-focused CERT and intelligence fusions centers, including the Illinois Statewide Terrorism Intelligence Center.


Unfortunately, impediments to information sharing exist. For instance, the government is apprehensive to share investigation-related information with industry. Alternatively, industry is concerned about disclosing information for fear of possible legal liability. Other obstacles for both include sharing information with the media (as in the case of the NFL hoax) and the role of technology and its reliability, speed, resilience and interoperability features. The cost of information acquisition, analysis and distribution is another obstruction of information sharing.

Raising awareness among business, industry and consumers will contribute immensely to existing information sharing frameworks. Other strengthening measures include greater specificity and accuracy in the content provided. Improved efficiencies and modes of distribution, as well as more institutionalization and higher participation in existing programs may help alleviate concerns attached to information sharing.

In doing so, we will more readily be able to distinguish—and respond to—genuine risks from hoaxes. In NFL phraseology, the aptitude to differentiate between traditional and fake punts will help our game.