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Congressional Report: DHS’s Intelligence Enterprise Still Needs Work

"After nearly a year of intense work," House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) released a comprehensive review of DHS use of intelligence to counter terrorist threats in the new report, Reviewing the Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence Enterprise: Fighting Terrorism by Addressing Key Gaps.

The report provides “an in-depth analysis of DHS’s intelligence structure and functions, and provides over 30 recommendations with regard to streamlining and enhancing DHS intelligence efforts,” according to McCaul’s office.

“Although DHS has improved its ability to protect the homeland against terrorist threats over time, major gaps still remain. As the next administration’s transition efforts begin, I urge the department to redouble its efforts to further integrate its intelligence organizations and systems,” McCaul said in a statement announcing the report. “Best supporting state and local law enforcement efforts must also continue to be a top departmental priority. Fifteen years after the attacks of 9/11, DHS has made significant strides in sharing terrorism-related intelligence, but more needs to be done. With the dangerous terror threat environment we face today, the acceptable margin of error is zero.”

According to the report, the attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11) spurred Congress to create DHS, it’s “purpose, in part, was to help unify ‘the many participants in the counterterrorism effort and their knowledge in a network-based information sharing system that transcends traditional government boundaries,’ which would become one of the key recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission). In pursuit of this goal, the DHS Intelligence Enterprise (IE) gradually evolved out of the relevant offices and functions of the 22 previously independent entities that eventually formed DHS."

But, "Although the IE has made progress unifying the US government’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks against the homeland, a 2014 RAND Corporation report accurately surmised that, despite an ‘intense focus on information sharing, the ability to fairly and accurately measure the value of these – sometimes expensive – efforts remains limited.’ Partly as a result, the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee conducted a review of terrorism-related intelligence sharing throughout the DHS IE, finding that DHS has made significant strides in improving the flow of terrorism information to all stakeholders since its creation.

However, the report stated:

  • The DHS Intelligence Enterprise (IE) is an evolving structure, and the authority of the Chief Intelligence Officer (CINT) is not completely accepted throughout the IE.
  • Some DHS IEmembers do not have clear, or even explicitly identified, missions. This vagueness causes overlapping efforts and inhibits the effective sharing of terrorism-related intelligence due to the fact that information flows are sometimes unclear.
  • The DHS IE does not have a consolidated intelligence doctrine and the CINT does not have full awareness of all terrorism-related intelligence sharing agreements into which the various DHS Components have entered.
  • The DHS IE employs a vast array of Information Technology systems that require standardization and modernization. Implementing the DHS Data Framework initiative is a critical project which will help ameliorate this issue, while also allowing for more effective intelligence analysis of Departmental data.
  • Members of the DHS IE generate a vast array of finished intelligence products. These are often nothing more than a repackaging of products from statutory Intelligence Community members, rather than analyses of DHS-derived information.

The critical recommendations in the report are:

  • The Secretary of Homeland Security should more clearly define the DHS IE, as well as its roles and responsibilities;
  • DHS components should examine the missions and structures of their Component Intelligence Programs, focusing and consolidating them as appropriate;
  • The CINT should work closely with the various DHS components to share terrorism-related intelligence effectively within the department as well as with other federal agencies;
  • The CINT should ensure that the IE serves State, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) law enforcement authorities effectively, while at the same time benefiting from the unique information they can provide to the department; and
  • The Secretary should re-issue the directive defining the DHS IntelligenceEnterprise, explicitly identifying which components are part of it. Furthermore, the directive should explicitly identify all personnel conducting intelligence activities as being part of the component’s (single) CIP.

The report further recommended that:

  • I&A should create an Office of Strategic Intelligence to work closely with other components, SLTT law enforcement authorities and the IC to identify emerging threats to the homeland;
  • CBP, the Transportation Security Administration and United States Citizenship Immigration Services should each consolidate their respective intelligence functions into one Component Intelligence Program per entity;
  • FEMA should more tightly define its Component Intelligence Program mission statement;
  • The Office of the Chief Security Officer (OCSO) should more tightly define its mission statement;
  • All components should produce the minimum number of different formats of finished intelligence as is necessary; and
  • All components should buy commercial subscriptions for open source analysis when appropriate, rather than hiring contractors to produce similar material.

“Although the committee fully understands that DHS’s mission includes much more than just counterterrorism (CT), this report … [focuses] on this topic specifically. The definition of terrorism,’ for the purposes of this study, is almost identical to that found in Title 18 of United States Code, referring to ‘violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State’ and ‘appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.’ Finally, although engagement with the private sector is asignificant part of DHS’ mission, its interactions with non-governmental entities are outside the scope of this report. The committee will examine these relationships further in depth in a subsequent study.”

The report noted that, “DHS, the IC and DOJ agreed in a separate 2003 memorandum to ‘establish procedures and mechanisms to provide DHS, and, as appropriate and practicable, other covered entities, with access to databases containing’ terrorism and other DHS relevant information. Furthermore, they concurred that ‘procedures and mechanisms for information haring, use, and handling shall be interpreted and implemented consistently and reciprocally.”

But, “In spite of all these requirements, there remain significant cultural and policy impediments to CT information sharing within the DHS IE, and between it and the rest of the federal government,” the report stated, noting, “One former DHS official remarked that although the IT architecture necessary to ensure ‘optimal’ sharing was still lacking throughout the IE, technological reasons were not the primary inhibitor of optimal intelligence flows. In fact, governance, policy and privacy concerns most inhibited sharing, in his opinion.”

Futher, “Many I&A analysts do not have experience in the various DHS components, which leads to a lack of understanding regarding their legal authorities, collection capabilities, and resultant data sets, according to former DHS officials. This unfamiliarity creates an ‘unhealthy disconnect’ between I&A’s intelligence mission and the law enforcement information that the components collect under a variety of legal authorities.”

“One way to help fix this disconnect would be standardizing and encouraging intelligence rotational programs,” the report stated. “DHS IE employees are currently able to participate in three separate programs. The IC Joint Duty Program is one such program, open to members of IC agencies, the purpose of which is to ‘encourage and facilitate assignments and details of personnel to national intelligence centers and between elements of the intelligence community.’”

The Homeland Security Rotation Program (HSRP) is specific to DHS, but not the DHS IE. It “provides developmental assignments that give additional opportunities for employees to broaden their skills, gain organizational knowledge and enhance their personal and professional growth.”

Finally, the Intelligence Rotational Assignment Program (IRAP) serves to “promote a broader understanding of the various intelligence missions and functions across the DHS IE and Fusion Centers” and “to enhance the career development of federal DHS intelligence personnel through exposure to other DHS Intelligence Components and fusion centers.

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