Federal groups to help states with intelligence strategies

Members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) and the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative are working to define guidelines for incorporating public safety and similar agencies in statewide intelligence fusion centers.

John Cohen, who advises Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on homeland security issues, said the groups met yesterday for the first time to discuss approaches to exchanging data with fire, emergency medical services and transportation sectors. Many states are developing statewide centers to serve as hubs for information collection, analysis and dissemination among federal and local governments.

The intelligence fusion centers are the next phase of an earlier HSAC initiative, in which council officials issued a report that better defines the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, local and tribal governments and the private sector regarding sharing intelligence data for domestic security.

Cohen said the two groups may need 60 to 90 days to produce some guidelines regarding how non-law enforcement groups provide and receive information from such fusion centers. HSAC advises Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff, and the information sharing initiative advises Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on justice information sharing and integration initiatives.

Cohen, who is a member of the HSAC working group, said Massachusetts is planning to start using the Homeland Security Information Network. HSIN is a DHS communications network for sharing information on domestic terrorist threats and suspicious activity and managing incidents.

Massachusetts will connect local governments to HSIN and the state’s fusion center, which is expected to be fully operational in 2007. It will also integrate the Health Alert Network, which is a communications backbone developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for sharing emergency health and other related information.

The state currently uses a system called the Statewide Anti-Terrorism Unified Response Network for information sharing. But that system can send information only one way while HSIN will facilitate two-way communications, Cohen said.

This morning, Cohen testified before a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee about the progress of information sharing among the federal, state, local and tribal governments.

He said that although information sharing has improved among all entities – including DHS and the FBI –several challenges remain. For example, government agencies receive information deemed not credible, overemphasize classifying information and lack national guidelines to help local and state entities analyze and disseminate intelligence data.

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