A Senate report on DHS support for state and local fusion centers savages the department's training of personnel detailed to the intelligence shops.
Highly-paid employees of the Department of Homeland Security detailed to state and local fusion centers to ensure quality local intelligence was passed on to the U.S. intelligence community suffered from a lack of training that resulted in intelligence reports described as “a bunch of crap,” according to a bipartisan Senate subcommittee investigation released Wednesday that savaged DHS’ involvement with fusion centers.
Investigators from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations learned that DHS officials assigned to fusion centers received no more than five days of intelligence reporting training, which resulted in some of those officials forwarding homeland intelligence reports (HIRs)--containing raw, unprocessed intelligence--to DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) that were largely full of useless information that sometimes violated civil liberties and privacy guidelines.
“‘You can barely teach people what the word [‘intelligence’] means’ in a week,” Harold “Skip” Vandover, chief of I&A’s Reporting Branch between 2009 and 2011, told subcommittee investigators. “All the problems we saw - are all linked right back to training.”
In 2007, Congress named DHS the lead federal agency tasked with integrating state and local fusion centers, often owned and operated by state police departments, into the U.S. intelligence community. The goal was to establish networks of two-lane highways for information-sharing between local police and U.S. intelligence agencies. Fusion centers and I&A became the hubs of the network, working together to determine what could and could not be shared. Today DHS recognizes 77 fusion centers nationwide, providing both staff and resources to the intelligence shops.
The personnel, known as reports officers (ROs), “were not junior officials,” notes the report. Most were GS-14s, a designation for their place on the federal government’s civil service pay scale. Their compensation during the time of the subcommittee’s investigation ranged between $80,000 to more than $100,000.
One DHS Senior Reports Officer (SRO) told the Subcommittee that training wasn’t adequate for most people. A former Army intelligence analyst, he said he received six months of intelligence training while in the Army. “Night and day” is how he described the difference between Army and DHS intelligence training. Substandard reporting was “systemic,” former Deputy Undersecretary for I&A Jim Chaparro told investigators.
Lack of training and the resulting substandard reporting of raw intelligence slowed the reporting process to a crawl. In response to frequent poor reporting, DHS had to institute a four-part review process to ensure raw intelligence was reportable. This tied a millstone around efforts to produce timely, genuine intelligence.
“[T]he new review process, when it met with a steady flow of poorly-written, sometimes inappropriate reporting, slowed I&A’s intelligence publishing by months,” the report noted.
Investigators discovered that a majority of the HIRs forwarded to I&A’s Reporting Branch in between April 2009 and April 2010 had no value, or worse.
Of the 574 unclassified draft reports investigators reviewed, 188 were cancelled and never published. Forty of those would have violated the Privacy Act if published. Of the remaining 386 unclassified HIRs that eventually were published, the subcommittee’s review “found close to 300 of them had no discernable connection to terrorists, terrorist plots, or threats.”
The remaining reports that investigators found valuable, however, took four months to publish on average, many of which were already reported via a direct connection between local and state law enforcement and the FBI, often on the same day.
One portion of the report focused intensely on the lack of accountability for DHS officials assigned to fusion centers.
Investigators traced 108 of the 188 canceled HIRs to just four reporting officials stationed at fusion centers. The reporters’ cancellation rates, however, were not used to evaluate their performance. In one case, a reporting official had 26 of his 35 draft reports canceled, almost 50 percent of them for civil liberties concerns. According to investigators, he would have received no more than 4 hours training on civil liberties and privacy issues combined during the 33-hour training course.
Nevertheless, the Subcommittee reported that “DHS officials interviewed could not identify a single official who faced significant consequences for shoddy reporting.”
Investigators also discovered that participants in the training courses were not administered tests or graded on their performance. “Trainers did not even have the option of failing a student,” the report states, even though many officials in the training had little intelligence experience before joining DHS.
And even those who did have prior intelligence experience needed more training because of the sensitive nature of reporting on people within the United States. “Privacy [protections for] U.S. person data- it is extremely difficult to get them to understand...those nuances,” Vandover told investigators.
According to the subcommittee report, I&A has suspended the five-day training class while developing a pilot enhanced training course. Yet disagreement exists over how long a reformed training course should be.
Vandover, now a subject matter expert working with DHS on the reform, believes the intelligence training course needs to be six weeks long. Undersecretary of I&A Caryn Wagner disagrees and has limited the course to three weeks. She told investigators that six weeks was too burdensome for DHS component agencies.
“I think the likelihood of components sending people to a 6-week course was pretty slim,” she said.