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International terrorism and the development of fusion centers

Written by Ken Bouche

Unfortunately, real law enforcement doesn’t always have access to the data, the intelligence, or the computers needed in a timely manner. The result is often critical clues that remain stranded in isolated computers unable to prevent or uncover crimes until after they have occurred.

Clearly, no lives are saved by uncovering clues to a terrorist plot after the event. This fact is being witnessed around the world during the new age of international threats.

Consider the 2005 London subway bombings. In the days that followed, British investigators discovered numerous clues and indicators that could have averted the attacks—if the information had been gathered, compiled, analyzed and disseminated to the appropriate authorities in an efficient, timely, justifiable, and systematic manner.

United States officials have encountered the same sobering truth when investigating the events of 9/11. The information void on 9/11 also hampered the harrowing work of local law enforcement and other first responders. This monumental incident underscored the importance of arming the nation’s first responders with the real-time, accurate information needed to make potentially life-saving decisions. Yet even with all of today’s new technology, getting the right information to the right people at the right time still proves daunting and unreliable at best.

The obstacles to a collaborative information structure have historically been overwhelming. Limited technology, sky-rocketing costs, and well-established turf have created an environment that fostered competition instead of much-needed cooperation.

Information Sharing Standards

Recently, a key piece of the information sharing puzzle—technology—has achieved an important milestone. It has become sufficiently sophisticated that it is not an obstacle to interoperability, but rather a functioning part of the solution. The Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) is a data exchange standard that makes it possible to share information without having to build new systems and negotiate new business rules. The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) will extend the information sharing capabilities of GJXDM to other domains beyond justice, including emergency management, immigration, intelligence, and homeland security. NIEM not only represents the best and brightest technical solutions to information sharing challenges, but also a solid partnership between DOJ and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as other federal agencies.

As technology solutions continue to evolve, strategists are concentrating on other, unresolved issues to make globally integrated information sharing a reality. One such significant problem facing agencies is the lack of access to substantive information needed to prevent terrorism. In fact, much of the vital intelligence information is locked away from those who need it in the field or on scene because of outdated Cold War mentalities regarding classification of intelligence information. As a result, critical information must be unclassified and disseminated appropriately if it is to be of any use in preventing domestic terrorism.

There are more than 800,000 law enforcement officers and more than 19,000 police agencies in this country that can assist in domestic security if armed with vital information. Important intelligence/information that may forewarn of a future attack is collected by local and state government personnel through crime control and other routine activities and by people living and working in our local communities. The critical importance of intelligence for frontline police officers cannot be overstated. Without the benefit of intelligence, local and state law enforcement cannot be expected to be active partners in protecting our communities from terrorism.

Intelligence Fusion Centers

 Federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies have joined forces to develop nationally and globally integrated data exchange capabilities and related policies. One such strategy has been the emerging creation of intelligence fusion centers, which are key components for ensuring the flow of threat- and crime-related information among local, state, regional, and federal partners.

The principal role of the fusion center is to compile, analyze, and disseminate criminal and terrorist information and intelligence, as well as other information to support efforts to anticipate, identify, prevent, and/or monitor criminal and terrorist activity. Fusion centers provide a mechanism through which law enforcement, public safety, and private sector partners can come together with a common purpose and improve the ability to safeguard our homeland and prevent criminal activity.

In order for local and state fusion centers to effectively identify emerging threats and trends, it is important for the federal government to identify and communicate the national threat status to local, state, and tribal agencies.

Currently, local, state, and tribal agencies and fusion centers forward information concerning suspicious incidents to multiple federal agencies with seemingly conflicting or duplicate missions. For example, depending on the nature of information, it may need to be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI’s Field Intelligence Group, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Headquarters. The resulting complexity and confusion creates an environment with limited accountability and a high potential for vital information to fall through bureaucratic cracks.

The federal government must, in close collaboration with local and state agencies, support the development of a national strategy for local, state, and tribal agencies and fusion centers to use when transmitting information to the federal government. The plan should clearly describe the flow of information—the “lanes in the road”—beginning at the local level, routing through the regional and/or state fusion center, and ending at the appropriate federal entity. Additionally, a single point of contact at the federal level should be identified for routing information that is received at the local and state level. Developing a plan to address the bi-directional sharing of information will assist with minimizing duplication and possible contradiction of information, while enabling relevant entities to maintain situational awareness.

Having a trusted sharing environment for communicating information and intelligence is a priority issue. There are a number of national systems and networks that local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies use for information sharing efforts, including the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS), Law Enforcement Online (LEO), the Homeland Security Information System (HSIN), and NLETS—the International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network. Currently, users must sign on to multiple systems in order to access information. Rather than develop new systems, it is recommended that the existing networks and systems be modified and augmented based on continuing information needs.

The federal government should leverage existing information sharing systems and expand intelligence sharing by executing interoperability between operating systems at the local, state, tribal, regional, and federal levels using a federated identification methodology. Users should be able to access all pertinent information from disparate systems with a single sign-on, based on the user’s classification level and need to know.

In addition, under the leadership of the DOJ and DHS, federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies have joined forces to develop nationally and globally integrated data exchange capability. The DOJ’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) and the DHS have shepherded ground-breaking new programs by putting aside turf issues and resolving data exchange barriers in the pursuit of a common goal.

While still in its infancy, the resulting National Information Sharing Strategy (NISS) will provide a road map for law enforcement agencies maneuver through the countless criminal justice systems and networks at every level. The development of NISS will include an analysis of a representative sampling of various states’ information sharing environment, identification of the business processes between the systems and levels (local/state/tribal/federal), determination of the gaps in the processes, and recommendations on mitigating the gaps. As a result of this work, law enforcement will be able to exchange information about criminals and terrorists, freely, accurately, and quickly in the same language, across national—and eventually international—borders for the first time in our country’s history.

ICLEAR

Information sharing successes are beginning to take place through state and local initiatives. An example is currently taking place in Illinois, where officials are involved in a painstaking process of defining language, rules, policies, and standards that will ultimately allow all levels of law enforcement to exchange sensitive information and data in real time. The Illinois State Police, in cooperation with the Chicago Police Department and local law enforcement statewide, is charting new territory with the innovative Illinois Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (ICLEAR) system.

ICLEAR is a statewide data repository and analytical data warehouse for Illinois police officers that is designed to provide critical information to officers in the field. With ICLEAR, critical information will no longer be isolated in local silos unable to provide the ultimate illumination required to defend the homeland, solve crime, and make people safer.

When completed, ICLEAR will allow a police officer to query a multitude of information systems from the safety and convenience of a patrol car. As a result, it is feasible that a beat cop could someday catch terrorists in the planning stages of a domestic attack thus affording law enforcement the very real prospect to proactively protect U.S. citizens.

Already police have been able to use this revolutionary new system to solve crimes and potentially save lives simply by having access to the right information. For example, an elderly victim of a home invasion and beating in a Chicago suburb overheard one perpetrator use another perpetrator’s nickname. Through Chicago’s CLEAR system, this limited information matched eight known criminals from the Chicago metro area. Mug shots of the suspects were shown to the victim who made a positive identification within hours after the crime occurred. The offender was later arrested and convicted of this and several other similar local violent crimes, bringing to an end a one-man crime spree. Only a few years ago, this criminal would have remained on the street, because the information suburban police needed would have been unavailable to them.

Illinois’ efforts in creating ICLEAR have also incorporated meticulous attention to potential privacy concerns inherent with the accessibility of sensitive information. As justice information is gathered, stored, analyzed, and shared, the need to protect personal privacy becomes more apparent. Consequently, in 2005, Illinois established a set of policies to direct appropriate use of the ICLEAR data including privacy principles and an associated privacy policy. Through these efforts, officials hope to strike an important balance between the need to protect the privacy and civil liberties of law abiding citizens and law enforcement’s need for timely, accurate data in safeguarding the public.

Conclusion

 In order to succeed, bridges must be built among local, state, and federal intelligence agencies and homeland security information consumers. Federal agencies must declassify information at the source with a “need to know” standard for dissemination. Local and state agencies that could contribute toward prevention strategies should be empowered with the information they need to do their job. Homeland security partners at all levels must recognize that terrorism is a criminal activity, it is funded through criminal activity, and it will be best prevented in an “all crimes” approach. This is not a federal war against terrorism, nor is it a war in some foreign land. This is the fundamental protection of our citizens from a domestic act of terrorism. If we are to continue to do our best in the prevention of these attacks, we must work as one united force.

We have the capacity to do the job, however, we need clear policies and processes to assist with implementing our national information sharing initiatives. We need to recognize the value that local, state, and tribal officials can bring to the table, not assume that this is a federal problem or that the threat will be mitigated by the federal government. Local and state officials have serious issues to resolve, and they want to be active, ongoing partners and participants with the federal government in the process

The integrated information sharing throughout justice, public safety, and homeland security is difficult, but it is moving forward. It helps protect America from threats to our national security. At the same time, it ensures a better quality of life for all citizens, safer schools and neighborhoods, and a more effective and fair system of justice. 

Colonel Ken Bouche has recently retired from the Illinois State Police as their CIO after serving for more than 23 years. He can be contacted at kb@mythings.com.


Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2006

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