New group to coordinate homeland security intelligence

DHS pushes global data sharing

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Starting tomorrow, state, local and tribal law enforcement officials will receive federal intelligence through a new coordinating group established to focus the information in a way that meets those officials’ needs and to unify federal policy on threats to public order.

Lora Becker, incoming director of the interagency federal state and local threat reporting and assessments coordination group, said the group would not generate alerts, warnings or updates on homeland security threats. Its analysts will provide strategic assessments of threats and disseminate them through established routes, such as the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the dozens of technology-rich state information fusion centers.

Becker spoke along with other information-sharing specialists during a panel on state fusion centers held today at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronic Association Homeland Security 2007 conference.

Becker cited the "need for a unified voice" in federal communications to local, state and tribal law enforcement and first responders. The new coordinating group is a policy initiative established under the federal intelligence reform law that established the Information Environment project. That law, known as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, also consolidated the federal intelligence community under the director of national intelligence.

One key role for the new coordinating group, Becker said, is to ensure that "analysis is tailored to the needs of [state, local and tribal intelligence users] and advocating for those same customers."

Becker noted that the coordinating group would obtain intelligence from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, the Defense Department, the CIA, the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and other intelligence agencies.

The group's organizers plan to exchange staff members with the partner agencies on one-year assignments.

Robert Riegle, state and local fusion center director at DHS, indicated his department's policies that support state fusion centers have included deploying intelligence officers to the centers. He said that by the end of the year, 35 state fusion centers would have permanently assigned DHS intelligence officers.

DHS officials have previously stated that their department’s intelligence officers assigned to the state fusion centers have terminals linking to the department's top-secret network. State systems will not link directly to the DHS top-secret network, under current policy, as described by DHS officials.

Michael Mines, FBI deputy assistant director for the intelligence directorate, described bureau policy toward the fusion centers, saying "the FBI sees these centers as a natural bridge to the joint terrorist taskforces. We have over 100 analysts assigned to the 42 fusion centers."

Mines said the bureau had obtained security clearances for more than 300 state, local and tribal law enforcement officials to facilitate information sharing. Mines further explained bureau policy regarding the fusion centers by noting that they are "all crime fusion centers." He noted that the centers respond to health crises, weather disasters and other major incidents that are neither law enforcement nor terrorism problems.

Jeff Wobbleton, Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center watch coordinator for the Maryland State Police, described how his center has framed a policy for integrating the private sector into its activities. Wobbleton's fusion center has integrated about 150 private sector organizations into its procedures for gathering and sharing information.

"You have to understand that [private company employees] are our eyes and ears," Wobbleton said.

Becker said the new federal coordination group would begin operating tomorrow. She said, "This coordination group is not a watch-and-warning center."

The new coordination group will complement and support existing law enforcement intelligence and homeland security agencies, Becker said, "and fuse and unify the U.S. government perspective.

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