The September 11, 2001 attacks demonstrated the importance of information sharing between local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement and homeland security partners in the wake of a devastating terrorist attacks. However, while progress has been made, significant challenges continue to hinder state and local law enforcement from sharing information on threats to the homeland.
To address remaining gaps in federal, state and local information sharing, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence recently convened a hearing to examine areas where information sharing can be improved.
“A common trend in these different reviews is the need for federal departments and agencies to view state and local law enforcement as partners in national security and counterterrorism, the need for leadership within organizations to ensure accountability for information sharing, wider access to necessary databases, and the professionalization of analysis and information sharing,” said subcommittee chairman Peter King (R-NY).
Chief Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), testified that the 9/11 Commission rightly asserted that ineffective information sharing severely handicapped our nation’s homeland security efforts. Since then, Beary explained there has been “substantial movement” in the right direction, but “our work is not done.”
Beary stated IACP strongly agrees with the recommendations laid out in the report of the Business Executives for National Security (BENS), particularly the recommendation that ownership and management of the integrated fusion centers should continue to be managed by state and local stakeholders with the support of federal entities.
Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association (NFCA), testified that fusion centers have played a significant role in the dramatic progress law enforcement, public safety and intelligence communities have made over the past decade in analyzing and sharing threat information.
The Majority Staff Report on the National Network of Fusion Centers issued by the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence in July 2015 recognized the direct impact of fusion center information sharing on terrorism investigations.
According to information provided by the FBI and Department of Justice, between December 2008 and December 2012, “176 SARs [suspicious activity reports] entered by fusion centers into the eGuardian or Shared Spaces SAR databases […] resulted in the FBI opening new terrorism investigations.”
In addition, “289 Terrorist Watchlist encounters reported by fusion centers enhanced existing FBI cases.”
Sena also agreed with many of the recommendations included in the BENS report, particularly the recommendation to establish a domestic threat framework for assessing and prioritizing threats and information needs. However, Sena disagreed with some of the assumptions made by the report.
For example, the BENS report recommended establishment of regional fusion centers on top of what is already in existence today. Sena believes this recommendation is unnecessary and could have a negative impact on the ability of fusion centers in those areas to accomplish their core missions.
Sena asserted fusion centers are increasingly contributing analytical and information sharing efforts to address cyber threats. For example, in late November and early December 2014 during the events in Ferguson, Missouri, the NFCA Cyber Intelligence Network hosted a virtual situational awareness room (referred to as CINAWARE) on the Homeland Security Information Network.
The CINAWARE room facilitated information sharing across agencies, with more than 350 individuals from fusion centers and other federal, state and local agencies around the country participated in the CINAWARE room between mid-November and early December.
“That level of threat information sharing was impossible only a few years ago, yet it is becoming essential,” Sena said.
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives National President Dr. Cedric Alexander added that building partnerships with the private sector will be critical in supporting the nation’s homeland security efforts. With most of the nation’s critical infrastructure owned and operated by the private sector, sharing information with the private sector must be a priority of any national preparedness effort.
Alexander also emphasized intelligence sharing will be key in addressing the uptick of cyber terrorism. In particular, federal and state entities must share intelligence with local agencies. However, the process to obtain security clearances for local agencies is costly and protracted.
Consequently, Alexander recommended that, “The path for local agencies to acquire security clearances must be streamlined.”
Local law enforcement must have access to software, technology and training. Alexander said “information is power,” but it’s useful only if local agencies know how to use it and who to share it with. The flow of information cannot be a one way street where local agencies are sharing information with state and federal agencies but not the other way around.
“As we have all witnessed in recent years, whether it was the Boston Marathon bombings, the Washington Naval Yard shootings, the Queens New York hatchet attack or the terrorist attacks in Norway, Paris, Ottawa and Copenhagen; today local law enforcement is essential in detecting, deterring, mitigating and responding to these threats,” Alexandersaid, adding, “The need for quality intelligence information is greater now than at any time in our nation’s history.”
Amid the rising threat of homegrown terrorism, local law enforcement and first responders must be recognized as absolutely vital to the homeland security mission.
“It is probably true that these issues will never be perfectly addressed, but we must keep in mind that our war on terror is a decades-long effort to defeat a dedicated enemy,” King said. “Anyone who doubts that should remember that today is also the anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 that killed 6 and wounded 1,000 people. We must continue to make every possible improvement to our homeland security – including intelligence and information sharing.”