NEWS

American People and Local Police Key to Homeland Security and Resilience

By Matthew Harwood

Homeland security experts today criticized the federal government for failing to share information with state and local law enforcement as well as the public at large in its effort to protect the country from terrorism.

"The American people deserve honesty about what threatens us," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment., "and an open discussion about what we need to do to protect ourselves and our families from the terrorists who want to kill us."

Stephen E. Flynn of the Council of Foreign Relations testified that the Bush Administration took the wrong lesson from 9-11: that the federal government is the best protector of the American people. The real lesson of 9-11 is that the American people can protect themselves and their government from attack.

Recounting the heroics on-board United Airlines flight 93, he noted the irony "that the legislative and executive centers of the U.S. federal government, whose constitutional duty is 'to provide for the common defense,' were themselves defended that day by one thing alone: an alert and heroic citizenry."

Flynn also argued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should cultivate a culture of national resilience like the British displayed during World War II when Nazi Germany smashed London with V-1 bombs.

Terrorism feeds on fear, Flynn explained, so the government should arm the public with the knowledge they need to prepare for and respond to the next terrorist attack. By reducing the public's fear and increasing its confidence in the nation's resilience, Flynn hopes the government would be less prone to overreact to terrorism, handing terrorists the strategic victory they crave.

Flynn called it "remarkable" that the federal government has neglected to leverage its citizenry and the private sector in homeland security. These two groups, he noted, are terrorists main targets. They, not soldiers or federal law enforcement officers, will respond first when another attack occurs.

R.P. Eddy, executive director of the Center for Policing Terrorism, criticized the federal government's reliance on the military and international intelligence to fight terrorism.

"This focus and funding—on federal forces and not local police, on international intelligence and not internal awareness—is wise only if our enemies are outside our borders and we can stop them before they get in," he said.

This emphasis is clearly ill-advised, Eddy noted, given that the threat of homegrown terrorism has steadily increased both abroad and at home. Citing international homegrown terrorist attacks, such as London in 2005, and disrupted attacks here, such as the Lackawanna plot, he warned terrorists "had all the necessary IDs and excuses. They didn't have to blend in; they were in."

In such an environment, the government must place more emphasis on state and local police. Eddy explained the simple math: 730,000 local police officers have a better chance of rooting out terrorist plots than 2,500 FBI agents.

To do so, however, the federal government must  provide the resources necessary to train officers in "intelligence-led policing" and ensure not only that DHS pushes relevant intelligence downstream to local police and stakeholders, but that it starts to collect the information most relevant to these groups.

State fusion centers, according to Eddy, are the best vehicle to achieve these objectives. While fusion centers act to collect, analyze, and push intelligence both upstream to federal agencies and downstream to state and local stakeholders, they can also be utilized "to teach intelligence-led policing to local police departments," he said.

Positive change, Flynn said, depends on DHS's ability to push the intelligence community away from its archaic "need-to-know" paradigm to a "need-to-share" paradigm.

We'll know this cultural shift has occurred, Flynn argued,  when DHS intelligence staff show up to work with one question in their mind: "Who needs homeland security-related information and how can I work to get it to them?"

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