ALEXANDRIA, Va - If you ride the Metro in Washington, D.C., you’re likely to hear homeland security chief Janet Napolitano’s voice urging passengers to say something if they see something suspicious.
It’s just one of the initiatives that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented to construct a “security architecture” to help local and state police detect and disrupt terrorist attacks emanating from overseas or here in the United States, Napolitano told the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) Division of State and Provincial Police yesterday.
“The threat environment now is constantly changing, it’s constantly evolving,” she said. “The terrorist threat to our nation is as busy as it has been since anytime prior to 9-11.”
The difference, however, is that the terrorist threat has diversified as well as become homegrown. “Instead of one core al Qaeda group, we now have many al Qaeda groups or al Qaeda-inspired groups, including [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], which has been centered in Yemen, which has been one of the busiest ones in terms of attempts on the United States.”
Napolitano also acknowledged that many jihadist terrorist groups do not have strong, if any, operational connections to core al Qaeda. What they do share is a similar violent extremist ideology. It’s an “ideology in the name of a very warped sense of Islam, but aimed at the West and aimed at the United States,” she said.
Over the past few years, this ideology has been planted on U.S. soil, leading to an increase in homegrown jihadist plots that are planned in the United States and directed at domestic targets.
“And that means that...we in law enforcement have to change and evolve as well,” Napolitano said. “It has profound implications for how we secure the country. It requires us to really have a new kind of ‘security architecture.’”
From DHS’s perspective, this security architecture has four core components: fusion centers, DHS guidance, suspicious activity reports, and community awareness.
Strengthening the nation’s 72 fusion centers has been a top priority of Napolitano’s DHS. These state-based intelligence hubs, drawing on local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel, are designed to collect, analyze, and share intelligence with local and federal partners about threats involving terrorism, crime, and even natural disasters.
(For more on fusion centers, see "Fusion Centers Continue to Experience Growing Pains.")
“We need at the DHS-level to have a way to get classified information on a real-time, operational basis out to the country and receive it back,” she said. “We can’t do it with every police department or sheriff’s office simultaneously, so we need to be able to use those fusion centers.”
Napolitano also stressed that state-based fusion centers must have good relationships with local law enforcement. “That’s probably an area where we need to do more by way of training and...getting that information to...the actual officer on the street,” she said.
The second component of DHS’s security architecture is developing best practices and guidance for local and state law enforcement partners.
According to Napolitano, DHS is studying how a person travels down the path of radicalization toward terrorism. “What caused them to become radicalized to the point of violence, to the point where they want to kill their fellow citizens?” she asked.