The federal government needs to stop creating additional domestic intelligence capabilities and streamline an already unnecessarily duplicative counterterrorism and domestic intelligence architecture, according to a thinktank report.
The federal government needs to stop creating additional domestic intelligence capabilities and streamline an already unnecessarily duplicative counterterrorism and domestic intelligence architecture, according to a report co-authored by a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official and one of Los Angeles’ top cops.
“Given the fiscal crisis faced at all levels of government in America, government leaders should recognize that sometimes less is more,” writes Deputy Chief Michael Downing, the Los Angeles Police Department’s commanding officer for counterterrorism, and Matt Mayer , a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former official within DHS. “When it comes to the domestic intelligence enterprise, streamlining the existing architecture and focusing resources on that architecture is the most prudent action to keep the nation safe.”
The report produced for the right-leaning Heritage Foundation was released on the same day last week that a Senate subcommittee blasted DHS’s relationship with state and local intelligence fusion centers, which the department helped finance and expand in an effort to establish information sharing portals between cops in their communities and the U.S. intelligence community. The original emphasis of fusion centers was to connect the dots of a terrorist plot and disrupt it before it could go operational, although in reality many fusion centers don’t consider counterterrorism a high priority, the Senate report found.
One of the main problems with that effort, the report concluded, was that fusion centers were, in many cases, unnecessary because those intelligence-sharing relationships already existed between local and state police and the FBI, particularly the Bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs).
Mayer told Security Management that the subcommittee’s report was accurate. Back in 2004 and 2005, Mayer said he was responsible for managing homeland security grants administered to states and localities when fusion centers became a grant priority inside the DHS Office of State and Local Government Coordination & Preparedness It was a decision that Mayer disagreed with, telling department officials that it was a waste of money for DHS to build its own intelligence network with states and localities when the FBI had already done so through its network of JTTFs, which rapidly multiplied after 9-11. “Why would we not partner rather than create a new silo for state and local governments,” he said.
The answer, according to Mayer, was that DHS wanted to establish its relevancy inside the U.S. intelligence community by competing with the FBI. In 2006, DHS intelligence chief, Charles Allen, described the importance of fusion centers to then DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, according to the Senate report.
“Harnessing domestic information is the unique DHS contribution to the national-level mission to protect the Homeland,” Allen’s fusion center plan read. Fusion centers would be “the natural entry point into State and Local ‘systems’ for critical threat information from the National Intelligence Community.”
Unfortunately, DHS did not have the intelligence experience to help states and localities establish functioning intelligence shops . “Through the years the folks who really wrote the grant guidance, who were pushing the fusion centers, had no intelligence backgrounds whatsoever,” said Mayer.
But if federal money was tied to erecting fusion centers, then states and localities would build fusion centers. This led DHS to sacrifice quality for quantity when it came to fusion centers. “Let’s be clear,” said Mayer, “if there wasn’t a dime of federal money invested in fusion centers over the last eight years, there might, might, might be a handful of fusion centers at the state and local level.”
Mayer and Downing recommend that DHS begin dramatically downsizing the 77 fusion centers recognized by the department and more fully integrate them into the FBI’s existing counterterrorism architecture. While they state fusion centers are co-located with FBI JTTFs and Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs)—who manage the intelligence cycle in the field— in some areas, most fusion centers remain geographically disconnected from the FBI’s counterterrorism hubs.
“Just as DHS cut back on the number of urban areas that received funds through the [Urban Areas Security Initiative] program from 63 urban areas to 31, it should also dramatically reduce the number of fusion centers” receiving federal money, they write.
The reason for this is simple. At a time of enormous fiscal constraint, states and localities cannot afford to run and staff fusion centers. Moreover, in many parts of the country the risk doesn’t justify the cost of operating fusion centers. In those areas, DHS should stop allocating federal funds to sustaining fusion centers. If those states and localities cannot fund those fusion centers without federal money, then so be it, said Mayer.
The report also criticizes the FBI for unnecessarily expanding its domestic intelligence architecture. In Chicago, the FBI has piloted a Joint Regional Intelligence Group (JRIG) and has plans for 11 more. The purpose of the JRIG, according to Mayer and Downing, “is to coordinate intelligence with federal agencies, establish a prioritized threat domain, and ensure that FIGs are focused on the mission at hand.” They find the concept redundant and competitive with fusion centers, “further fragmenting America’s domestic counterterrorism enterprise.”
“Let’s not put another mouth at the table,” says Mayer. “Let’s cut down the number of fusion centers to the places where there’s really risk, and let’s figure out how to make them work closely with the FIGs and the JTTFs and get what we need done.”
♦ DHS/FBI Intel Report Snapshot