The San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) has set an example for other U.S. police departments by successfully becoming active participants in the national intelligence community, according to a report from a nonpartisan homeland security think tank at The George Washington University.
In the 17-page report “Running a Three-Legged Race” for the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), authors Andrew G. Mills, the commanding officer of criminal intelligence and counter terrorism for the SDPD, and Joseph R. Clark, a policy analyst at HSPI, describe how the CIU modified its practices to determine what terrorism threats exist in the San Diego area and how to collect relevant information on targeted individuals and groups.
While most police officers have been by told state and federal officials that they are the country’s “eyes and ears” for countering terrorists, Mills and Clark argue police officers haven’t received the training or trust, especially from the intelligence community, necessary to integrate local police departments into the U.S. counterterrorism community.
Mills and Clark, however, believe the SDPD’s CIU has developed a successful model to help other police departments become domestic intelligence players, where local police collect and share intelligence information between other law enforcement agencies and the U.S. intelligence community. The report notes that local intelligence has become crucial as the terrorist threat has shifted from core al Qaeda overseas to homegrown jihadist terrorists, who may have some foreign connections.
To determine its relevant intelligence needs, the CIU created a matrix based off of its own work and best practices learned from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to identify those groups that posed the greatest threat to the city. A fortunate byproduct of this approach was that SDPD established the relationships it needed to share critical intelligence with other agencies without partners fearful city police would make a bad decision that could ruin an investigation, note Mills and Clark
One group the CIU determined posed a possible threat to San Diego was al Shabaab, the Somalia-based militia cum terrorist organization with ties to al Qaeda, because of the city’s large Somali diaspora. To initiate the intelligence collection process, the CIU produced a report on the city’s Somali community. It then asked police officers and detectives in the field to focus on intelligence gaps exposed by the report. One gap was the connection between a Somali street gang known as the African Mafia Crips (AMC) and al Shabaab.
According to the report, “The logic behind targeting AMC was this: when a khat shipment (khat is a recreational drug most often used by people who are indigenous to East Africa) arrived--it was believed AMC would be involved and that the shipment would provide opportunities to establish what contact might exist between AMC and al-Shaabab [sic] jihadists within the U.S.”
By focusing its efforts on the AMC, the CIU was able to examine gang members’ phones, which enabled the unit to determine how many AMC members were al-Shabaab sympathizers. According to Mills and Clark, this intelligence collection effort helped the CIU map out AMC members’ social networks, identify which al-Shabaab sympathizers owned weapons, and eye ways to exploit vulnerabilities between those members whose allegiance rested with the gang and those members whose allegiance rested with al-Shabaab.