Law Enforcement Perspective: International Association of Chiefs of Police Interview with Bart R. Johnson
An interview with Bart Johnson, the executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Bart R. Johnson is the new executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the nation's largest and oldest police organization. Previously, he was the principal deputy under secretary at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) within the Department of Homeland Security (HLS). I&A is the lead office within the federal government responsible for sharing terrorism-related information and intelligence with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and the private sector. He also formerly served as the director of Homeland Security and Law Enforcement (HSLE) in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence . In this capacity, Johnson was the principal advisor to the director and his executive staff for HSLE issues, and primary subject matter expert on missions, capabilities, and organizations of the Intelligence Community’s homeland security and law enforcement federal, state, local, and tribal partners. Before joining the federal government, he served as a colonel with the New York State Police. He has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, most of them with the New York State Police. The interview was conducted in late November, just before Johnson departed HLS for the IACP. We spoke with him both about his HLS experiences and his plans as head of the IACP.
With core al Qaeda decimated, what’s the greatest threat of terrorism targeting the United States?
Over the past two-and-a-half years, the United States has witnessed an evolution of the threat. Not only is the threat emanating from outside the United States’ borders, but it is now originating from within the United States, as evidenced by the activities of individuals like Nidal Malik Hasan, Faisal Shahzad, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, Naser Jason Abdo, and many others who have been investigated and subsequently arrested by FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). If you asked me what does that mean, it means that we need to make sure that we have a well-informed, well-equipped, and well-trained homeland security and law enforcement community, and therein lies the importance of the unique role that I&A plays in providing them with that information. Additionally, we also need to realize that since these threats are emanating from within our borders, it is state and local law enforcement officers who are probably going to be the ones who detect and report the threats.
Ten percent of I&A’s mission is identifying emerging threats. What emerging threats should security professionals watch out for?
I would say the emerging threat of increasing concern is the lone actor. An individual who is being inspired by individuals or Web forums to then perform a violent act in the form of a terrorist attack, very similar to what Faisal Shahzad tried to do on May 1, 2010, in Times Square. And that’s the most difficult threat to identify. But, of course, giving the private sector and homeland security and law enforcement officials the indicators and warnings they need to identify is once again the role of I&A and the national network of fusion centers. This, coupled with the “See Something, Say Something” campaign, provides the country with a better opportunity to detect and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
I know FBI officials were critical of fusion centers’ shift from counterterrorism to an all-hazards approach. Do you believe the shift was necessary? And are there any successes because of the shift that you can share?
I know the FBI is very supportive of the National Network of Fusion Centers and I personally believe it’s very important for fusion centers to be all crimes.
Other types of crimes and threats that we’re facing as a country cross not only jurisdictional boundaries within the United States but those outside the United States in the form of human smuggling, narcotics smuggling, and weapons smuggling. And oftentimes, those types of crimes support or facilitate terrorist activities. As you’re building these systems and capabilities for countering terrorism, the good thing is for law enforcement to have that duality of approach.
I&A has been described as pushing out “intelligence spam” from the federal government to state and local governments through fusion centers. Did I&A take these criticisms seriously and is I&A trying to improve its reports by including more meaningful and actionable intelligence?
That was maybe the way things were two-and-a-half years ago, when I first got there. I would say that we as an organization, working closely with the FBI, are now providing actionable intelligence to the National Network of Fusion Centers and to many other stakeholders. We are providing meaningful intelligence. And you ask any law enforcement official from a major organization whether or not we’re doing that, and I’m pretty confident that they will say yes. Do we need to improve more? Of course we do. We can never remain stagnant. I think the most meaningful evidence of this was the days and months leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9-11, when we, in partnership with the FBI, produced a number of reports that were based on the threat. Together, we then sent these reports to the fusion centers and briefed them on the intelligence.
What improvement does I&A need to concentrate on making now?
They need to continue to build up the capabilities of the fusion centers as it relates to what Secretary Napolitano says: “building centers of analytical excellence.” To do that, we need well-trained, well-equipped analysts in the field and we’re starting to do exactly that through the sponsorship of a national conference that was held in November of 2011 and other trainings and network building opportunities. So when they receive intelligence or threat-related information, they have the ability to contextualize it and really determine what the “so-what factor” is for that area of responsibility. We have also strengthened our relationship amongst the analysts based within the Beltway with the analysts assigned to the fusion centers in the field. That is very important to ensure that the exchange of ideas and relationships continues to build since they both have so much to offer one another.
Over your long career, you’ve been a state trooper and a federal official. How do you plan on using these experiences to further increase the collaboration between the federal government and state and local law enforcement in your new position?
What I want to do, and what I hope I’ll be able to do, is work very closely with the board and bring some of my perspectives and some of my experiences to the table and hopefully contribute to continuing to build upon a fine tradition of the IACP, especially as it relates to intelligence and information sharing. I believe the IACP can continue to work with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the establishment of a national strategy that acknowledges the progress of the past 10 years, validates it, and then offers a strategy for the next 10 years that will formalize this relationship in the form of an
Increasingly local police are seen as first preventers of terrorism. Is there a risk that law enforcement has become too consumed with antiterrorism, thereby neglecting their traditional policing roles?
Counterterrorism certainly has been a priority over the past 10 years, but I don’t believe anything else has been diminished because of the priority within the federal government and the intelligence community to prevent terrorism. Once again, I go back to the fact that there’s no mystery about terrorism—it’s a criminal act. It’s perpetrated by bad individuals and organizations who want to hurt the United States. And to do that, they need to plot, plan, conspire, surveil, time, acquire, and execute their plots. It’s law enforcement—and an informed public—who are best equipped to identify, not only terrorism, but crime in general.
Right now, what worries law enforcement executives the most across the country?
They’re facing unprecedented budgetary cuts and issues and loss of personnel, which is once again highlighting the need for collaboration, IT infrastructure, information sharing, and intelligence analysis to create and find those efficiencies. It is important to support the intelligence cycle since it does create opportunities for efficiencies and the smart application of diminishing resources to problem areas. In other words: intelligence-led policing. Law enforcement is, and needs to be, smarter about what they’re doing in tough budgetary times.