Napolitano brings information sharing success to DHS post

Since Janet Napolitano took over as Homeland Security secretary in January, she has vocally pledged her support for efforts to share homeland security-related information and intelligence between state, local and federal authorities. Her emphasis on such sharing predates many of the current federally driven efforts to integrate state and local authorities into the national-intelligence apparatus.

Napolitano, who was elected governor of Arizona in 2002, oversaw the construction of one of the country’s first state and local intelligence fusion centers. In “Securing Arizona,” her homeland security strategy released in 2003, she called for the establishment of the center to be called Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC).

Norm Beasley, one of the originators of the idea behind the ACTIC, said the center could not have been completed as quickly or been as successful without Napolitano’s help. The governor embraced the idea immediately and threw the power of her office into supporting it, he said.

Beasley, now a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department’s intelligence division, was serving in a leadership role with the intelligence division of the state’s Department of Public Safety when the ACTIC project began.

Napolitano also played a key role obtaining federal funding for the center, as the federal government was initially resistant to funding the ACTIC, Beasley said. The center opened in October 2004 at a cost of about $3.5 million for the first year.

Since that time, the federal government, through the Homeland Security Department, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the centers and a network of 70 fusion centers around the country has now developed.

Although the centers were designated by the Bush administration as a central node for sharing terrorism-related information across different levels of authorities, the ACTIC and many other centers focus on sharing all types of criminal and information related to potential hazards.

Proponents argue that focusing on all threats allows the centers to be most successful, because often it’s impossible to know right away is a particular crime is linked to terrorism. But, some of the centers’ critics say taking such a broad focus represents a mission creep for the centers and that proper oversight is lacking.

It appears the centers have a friend in Napolitano, and the Obama administration in general.

“What I will be advocating as the Secretary of Homeland Security is that fusion centers are the centerpiece of state and local information-gathering and sharing for us across the country,” Napolitano told fusion-center directors, law enforcement officers and others earlier this month at the National Fusion Center Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

An overview of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget request released last month also pledged support for homeland security information-sharing efforts.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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