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On Homeland Security: Intelligence and Information Sharing

Introduction

The world is changed. The continuation of the evolution of society and man’s understanding is in constant flux, but there are times when a specific point in time sets the future towards a different path. The day the towers that loomed over New York’s Manhattan Skyline dipped out of sight brought about one of those changes. The United States of America has become distinctly aware that a growing threat in the east has grown far greater than had been previously thought, with a reach so far as to move past America’s doorstep and hit her in her heart. America was vulnerable.

The coming months became a flurry of activity as United States military ships, planes and personnel began converging on the Middle East. The eyes of the world watched as America began exacting its castigation on the thorn that had pricked its side. The military operation in the Middle East would be short, however, compared to the mission that would take place in the homeland – security.

The creation of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), cabinet member and the PATRIOT Act came within months of the attacks on 9/11. With a new Act passed into law, the mission of the DHS was simple: protect the homeland. It brought under its umbrella agencies which included border, coast and airport security and intelligence services, along with many others, to better tune the nation’s defense to this new threat. The department is a mammoth organism of personnel working around the clock towards the creation of a better, safer nation. With the threat as tenacious as Islamic extremists who are constantly changing their strategy, the more daunting task might become keeping up with them. The massive amounts of intelligence that can be gathered today truly does give an advantage to those attempting to stay one step ahead of terrorist attacks. However, the concern is if it is possible for a department as massive as the DHS to be able to adapt to changing tactics of the enemy.

Research question

The plan is for all facets of defense to be ready to react to all types of threats at any time. With fusion centers created around the country, it speaks of the desire for the DHS to bring state and local agencies together so all levels of law enforcement can be prepared. The implementation of such must be an ever improving process. How can the DHS use real-time intelligence to plan for and respond to the evolving threat of terrorism and disseminate information to all levels of law enforcement?

Hypothesis

Though planning for the response to terrorism is a key link in the chain of homeland security, it is far better to foil a planned attack before it begins. For this, intelligence becomes vital. Intelligence gathering is far from a new concept. The gathering of evidence of a planned attack is fundamental to the prevention of the attack. Gathering is only the beginning. Intelligence is only as good as the understanding and acting on it. For this, the maintaining and gathering of real-time intelligence, along with the ability to disseminate information to the potential first responders at the state and local levels, must be continuous. As DHS continues to adapt to threats on the United States, its use of real-time intelligence in planning and dissemination to all levels of law enforcement will lend to the success of its mission to protect the homeland.

Variable discussion

            The brunt of many political discussions and jokes deal with the sluggish pace in which government agencies work. Bureaucracy, at its finest, hinders harmful decisions from taking place before damage is done; this strength can be its greatest flaw when positive change is attempted. Thousands of man-hours go into each policy change, standard operating procedure and response plan. Taking months – if not years – the item is picked apart, tested, put up for comment, sent to legal and revised (and often lost and re-found) before it makes its way into the permanent record. This maintains a well thought out set of protocols to follow. However, with fluidity of the field that the DHS is entrusted to protect, how well does the standard government operation work?

Moving forward, this research project is hampered with the inability to obtain classified material that would enlighten the internal workings of the department; however, the results should give evidence that the DHS has the ability to remain fluid. To work towards its ability to adapt, Homeland Security Standing Information Needs (HSEC SINs) was created. This is a fluid, yearly revised published report that attempts to help focus intelligence gathering in order to coincide with the needs of the department. “The HSEC SINs document the enduring all-threats and all-hazards information needs of the Homeland Security Enterprise” (DHS Intelligence). This is to act like a sorter, of sorts, to funnel the correct information to the correct agency.

With the creation of the Homeland Intelligence Report Working Group (HIRWG) in 2010, a new need was addressed within the DHS: pushing intelligence through its department and agencies. As the funnel from the HSEC SINs found the needed information, the HIRWG streamlined the “production, review and publication process of the Departments intelligence reports” (Government Press Release, 2011). The need for further working groups denotes the continual need within the DHS to replenish intelligence in a timely manner after nearly a decade of being in operation.

Though this shows a desire to continually adapt to new threats, the concern still stands. “The response to the complexity of the intelligence challenge is an incomplete process at this stage because of the complexity of the threat and bureaucratic environments” (Harknett & Stever, 2011). To be sure, the collection of terrorist intelligence is no small feat. In fact, it challenges the intelligence system as a whole, but knowing this must be an urgency on the DHS that the collected information be used to its utmost.

There is evidence that the Department is utilizing intelligence. 9/11 was not contained to the United States. Since the attacks on New York and Washington D.C., terrorist attacks have been prolific across the world. Though a few have occurred within America, the potential attacks have been far higher. In fact, over sixty plots have been foiled thanks to intelligence (Zuckerman, Bucci & Carafano, 2013). This speaks to the ability of the DHS to gather and utilize intelligence in a timely manner.

Ongoing terror attacks are evidence of the need to refine the way intelligence is used. As reorganizing was underway within the national security agencies, the need was seen to have a method to gather intelligence from around the country. As this idea grew, state agencies were also brought together with the federal agencies in order to streamline information sharing from both ends of the law enforcement spectrum. With this, the concept of a Fusion Center came to be.

In theory, these fusion centers are in place as a two way conduit of information. The juncture of state, local and federal agencies are tasked with national security to join information and forces. As research into fusion centers was began with the hypothesis of this paper in mind, this author was a bit surprised as to what ended up being strong points and where the perceived weaknesses lay in the fusion system.

In a recent survey of representatives from over 70 of these, it found a surprising perceived lack of preparedness in cyber security on the fusion center level. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, “over 44 percent of the survey respondents rated their ability to ‘analyze cyber security relevant information’ at a 3 or below” (Erickson, 2012). With more reports being published on a daily basis regarding the state of American cyber defense and its lack of ability to respond, it would seem one of the weak links in cyber security have been found. The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, who conducted the survey, addressed this finding this way: “Our level of cyber awareness and our ability to respond to threats are not what they could (or should) be. The US’ national network of fusion centers is not being fully leveraged in the struggle to address a growing cyber threat to homeland security” (Erickson, 2012).

As discussed within this class, there is a need to not limit national security to merely government entities. As cumbersome and bureaucratically weighty as the DHS is, it still is not able to oversee all the potential threats to America. In cases of national security, the private sector is extremely under used. In the same study as cited above, when asked if they received daily briefings from the private sector, only 2.1 percent answered in the affirmative (Erickson, 2012). This included critical, private infrastructure such as electric and communication companies which are widely known to be a high value target of terror groups. With over half of the fusion centers responding stating that they do not have personnel of these critical companies as members of the local fusion center, a failure is seen in the need to completely “fuse” each region.

9/11 showed the United States that terror groups understood the need to target both private and public institutions. In the beginning, strides were made in securing bridges and dams. However, setting forth policy for critical infrastructure to which adhere is not the singular answer. Maintaining a dynamic relationship with such companies will only strengthen the security of crucial points within the nation. Further, such companies invest in strong security measures that can help aid the national security mission. Keeping such companies out of the information-sharing loop not only hampers efforts, but can also be described as a serious oversight.

As local law enforcement officers are expected to keep communities safe from traditional criminals, it seems they are then well equipped to know and aid potential terrorists that are within American communities that mean to harm us (O’Sullivan, 2010). Sharing of information is vital to the shared responsibility of national security. The general, overall picture can become clearer as shared information is pieced together (Morris, Kleist, Dull &Tanner, 2014). As referenced earlier, fusion centers are a two-way conduit. Just as they can absorb information to the good of the overall intelligence, they should be utilized in the sharing of information with state and local agencies. For any major disaster, these are the agencies that will be the first responders. Information can aid in such a response.

With the creation of the DHS, the Homeland Security Act (that created the DHS) outlined the responsibilities of strong information sharing. This included distributing warnings to state and local agencies (GAO, 2003). As the network of agencies perform together in fusion centers, there is a great opportunity for federal agencies to share information as it becomes known. The implementation of real-time intelligence on the streets of America will aid the local law enforcement agencies to effectively respond and apprehend threats as they develop.

The creativity on how to leverage a fusion center should not be restricted. Utilizing its ability to gather law enforcement and planning professions together is a vital source of training for all levels of potential terror attack. This was seen clearly when this author was privileged to take part in a joint training exercise with FBI, DHS, state, county and local law enforcement. Gathering agencies from around this region that would respond to large incidents will inevitably help response. The combination of agencies will lend itself to great efficient and cost effective training (Rogers, 2013).

The frequency of joint training missions are on the rise and for good reason. With federal, state and local agencies all training separately, the issue became a jurisdictional fight for whose training and policies trumped others. In the end, as the federal agencies moved in, their training and policies took precedence and state and local responders would begin working under a system with which they were not failure. Training would seek to eliminate this barrier.

The amount of the research and literature on collaboration from federal, state and local training is scarce. Indeed, inter-agency training of any kind is scarce. Thus, the effectiveness of combined training has not been studied or explored. However, the desired effects can be seen as more trainings take place. This should inevitably open up avenues of exploration.

An example of further collaboration would be the DHS working directly with the writing of policies on emergency preparedness and response. In a 2009 report on local preparedness, it stated that in attempting to ascertain information to help planning response the majority consensuses state that vague information created barriers rather than improved planning efforts. In fact, agencies that are willing to work with real-time intelligence are getting old information. This goes further than information sharing. This speaks to the need to have an ongoing relationship between agencies.

Conclusion

The desire of the American public, and indeed the Department of Homeland Security itself, is that the national security mission remains relevant as terrorist groups continually find ways around current defenses. In this dynamic world, it is imperative that strong intelligence is not only collected, but also pushed to appropriate agencies. Adapting to new methods of terror tactics from real-time intelligence is not necessarily easy to do. However, the DHS shows strides in making this happen. With the HSEC SINs and with the addition of HIRWG already in place, the need to push useful actionable intelligence will only strengthen these groups to perform better.

Taking the intelligence and putting it into use within the local community has become one of the hurdles of the fusion centers’ missions scattered around the nation. But as pointed out, the information sharing must be a two way street. Not only can information from local and state agencies help the response capabilities for the DHS, the opposite can also be true.

As shown in the previous pages, it will be local law enforcement agencies and private companies who will be tasked with first responding to any attacks that happen. What better way to utilize such agencies than to equip with intelligence that could potentially stop terrorist plots? Research suggests that though there have been strides by the DHS to have stronger information sharing channels, this is still a weak category within national security. A greater, more efficient information sharing system should continue to be developed.

Utilizing fusion centers to train and collaborate on policies within government and private entities are a necessary. As the centers are expanded to include critical infrastructure and small law enforcement agencies, all parties involved will benefit from shared information and training. As seen, without it, the failure to organize during an active response can hamper efforts.

With a little over a decade of operations, the DHS is proving its desire to continue to adapt to the needs of national defense. The department seems to realize that its use of real-time intelligence in both planning and dissemination to all levels of law enforcement will lend to the success of its mission to protect the homeland. As it works to streamline its abilities, the national security of the nation will become stronger.

 

 

References

DHS Intelligence (n.d.). More about the Office of Intelligence and Analysis mission. Retrieved from www.dhs.gov/more-about-office-intelligence-and-analysis-mission#2

Erickson, S. (2012, June 28). Fusion center strengths and weaknesses. Retrieved from http://dailysignal.com/2012/06/28/fusion-center-strengths-and-weaknesses/

GAO, (2003) Homeland Security: Information Sharing Responsibilities, Challenges, and Key Management Issues: GAO-03-715T. (2003). GAO Reports, 1.

Government Press Release (2011, June 2). House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Hearing; “The DHS (Homeland Security Department) Intelligence Enterprise – Past, Present, and Future.”. Government Press Releases (USA).

Harknett, R. J., & Stever, J. A. (2011). The Struggle to Reform Intelligence after 9/11. Public Administration Review, 71(5), 700-706.

Morris, B. W., Kleist, V., Dull, R. B., & Tanner, C. D. (2014). Secure Information Market: A Model to Support Information Sharing, Data Fusion, Privacy, and Decisions. Journal Of Information Systems, 28(1), 269-285. doi:10.2308/isys-50705

O’Sullivan, T. M. (2010). Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise [electronic resource]: overview and issues / Terry M. O’Sullivan, editor. New York : Nova Science Publishers, c2010.

Zuckerman, J., Bucci, S. P., & Carafano, J. J. (2013, July 31). 60 terrorist plots since 9/11: continued lessons in domestic counterterrorism. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2013/7/60-terrorist-plots-since-911-continued-lessons-in-domestic-counterterrorism?ac=1

 

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