Napolitano Outlines Domestic Security Architecture for Preventing Terrorist Attacks
In a speech before the nation's top cops, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano outlined the four components that make up the country's domestic security architecture.
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.
She told the police chiefs in the room that DHS research into countering violent extremism (CVE) has discovered common behaviors, trends, and tactics, which she hopes DHS can package together as a training curriculum for local police. That curriculum, according to Napolitano, is currently being tested at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center .
Another part of the architecture is the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI), which DHS and the Department of Justice have partnered to roll out nationwide in the near-term future. The goal of the initiative is to get suspicious activity reports (SARs) from local police and community members digested and analyzed to uncover activities that may signal a terrorist activity.
The NSI connects to the final part of the architecture: DHS’s “See Something, Say Something ” campaign. A significant problem, according to Napolitano, in detecting terrorist activity is an unaware or complacent citizenry.
“How do you get a person on the street involved in their own security?” she said. “How do we get people on the street to understand that security is not just a governmental responsibility?”
“See Something, Say Something” was the answer. Since July, the campaign has been rolled out at sporting events, like March Madness; transit systems, like the DC Metro; and large retailers, like WalMart, to urge citizens to report behavior-based suspicious activities to law enforcement.
According to Napolitano, all these components work together to protect the country from further terrorist attacks.
“‘See Something, Say Something; SAR; Fusion centers; CVE curricula and training: all going together to make sure we have the homeland security foundation that recognizes the evolving nature of the threat and the fact that the threat is not geographically limited in our nation anymore,” she said.
Napolitano also connected the homeland security architecture to the fiscal straits facing state and police budgets due to the recession, arguing it should make policing more cost-effective.
“One of the ways that we can force-multiply is by having better risk-based, intelligence-based policing out in our neighborhoods and out in our communities,” she said. “That’s really a way to make the maximum use of the very, very valuable law enforcement asset, that manpower, that technology that we have out on the street.”
That said, Napolitano told the police chiefs that they must go out and talk to their elected leaders and stress that counterterrorist policing capabilities are not a luxury, but a necessity.
“These are core competencies that should be built into your budget from the outset not as an add-on at the end, even though these are relatively, recently developed techniques and tactics,” she said.
♦ Photo of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano courtesy of IACP