THE MAGAZINE

Smashing Intelligence Stovepipes

By Joseph Straw

Funding

As with many fusion centers, one of WAJAC’s major challenges was to find the resources it needed to carry out its operations. WAJAC has had considerable success in this regard. In some cases, it gets assistance from its partners. For example, the FBI’s Seattle field office donates the space occupied by WAJAC, while the sworn officers posted to WAJAC and the state’s nine RIGs are on loan from and paid by their own law enforcement agencies.

WAJAC sought to fund its civilian analyst positions with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) grants. The state now funds its analysts with $2.4 million in annual LETPP support, says WAJAC commander WSP Lt. Randy Drake. Those grants, however, require WAJAC to hire analysts as contractors, not as regular, salaried staff.

While officials have been frustrated by some federal grant restrictions, at least one funding restriction ultimately served a useful purpose. Seattle and King County officials sought to fund their RIG as a freestanding, metropolitan fusion center using DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant funds. However, UASI funds cannot be spent on real estate, which prevented the RIG from using the money to establish a new center.

Due to that restriction, the Seattle Police Department has moved its homeland security function into loaned space at the FBI building adjoining WAJAC, with plans to develop an independent city fusion center at the site.

While stakeholders say that institutional pride led some city officials to resist the move at first, the funding restriction left them little choice. Now, officials say, they realize that co-location with the FBI is a plus as it places federal, state, and city officials in the same building, enhancing cooperation and increasing information sharing.

Staffing

Getting the funds in place was critical to obtaining qualified staff. Of 18 civilian intelligence analysts employed in the Statewide Fusion System, five work at WAJAC, alongside four sworn law enforcement officers: two Seattle Police Department detectives, another from the King County Sheriff’s Department, and one from the Bellevue Police Department. The Washington Military Department has detailed one of its own analysts to WAJAC, with a second planned, says Drake.

WAJAC’s nonsworn analysts come from a variety of backgrounds, but consist primarily of retired law enforcement personnel, former military intelligence specialists, and veteran analysts from the region’s multi-jurisdictional High-Intensity Drug-Trafficking Task Force, he says.

Under One Roof

There’s a truism in real estate that the three most important factors are location, location, location. According to WAJAC stakeholders, one of the operation’s strongest suits is indeed its location. The center is located in the headquarters of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office, just one floor below the offices of the Washington State Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the regional FBI Field Intelligence Group (FIG). 

WAJAC staff can move freely between their space and that of the JTTF and FIG upstairs, and enjoy unrestricted access to FBI computer systems. The combined operation is slated to expand further when the intelligence operations of the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Department, which together cover  the Seattle metropolitan area, move into the floor below WAJAC, says David Gomez, FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle field office.

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI have weathered heavy criticism for failure to recognize each other’s security clearances, the FBI has circumvented the problem here by issuing all of WAJAC’s analysts and law enforcement personnel top secret clearances, says Gomez.

Tasks

WAJAC’s workload breaks down into two basic areas: Daily analysis and response to field requests. 

Daily analysis. Information streams in from multiple sources, including RIGs, the federal government, other states, and open sources.

How some of this information is obtained is almost as complicated as the analysis process itself. The problem is that DHS is pushing its Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) database and portal, to the consternation of veteran state and local law enforcement officials. They are already comfortable with the Department of Justice’s Regional Information Sharing System (RISS), and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX). LInX is widely used in states like Washington where Naval investigators collaborate heavily with state and local authorities. WAJAC seeks to take a holistic approach by taking advantage of all available databases, says Drake. 

WAJAC issues bulletins to state or regional officials and, in some cases, to the general public, as analysts spot threats and trends from the data.

WSP handles distribution of the refined intelligence. In an emergency response, for example, EMD Director Mullen says that he does not deal directly with WAJAC, but relies on the WSP officer posted to the state’s emergency operations center to provide him with current intelligence.

Field requests. Second, WAJAC regularly takes requests for analysis from state and local law enforcement agencies in the field, in keeping with the center’s all-crimes, all-hazards approach. The requests for analysis primarily come from investigators seeking to spot trends in areas like drug crime, gang activity, or theft.

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