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Chertoff Urges DHS Focus on Domestic Intelligence

February 3, 2012
By Max Cacas, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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The former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says he believes a forthcoming period of budget restrictions should provide the impetus for the DHS to shift its intelligence efforts away from overseas threats and focus instead on domestic security.

Judge Michael Chertoff, the second DHS secretary, served during the Bush administration between 2005 and 2009. Today, he is co-founder of the Chertoff Group, a risk-management and security consulting firm. Chertoff is also a senior counsel at the Washington law firm, Covington and Burling. His recommendations are part of a report by the bi-partisan Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group, which he co-chairs with former California Rep. Jane Harman.

“In a budget constraining environment,” he explained in a telephone interview, “DHS intelligence should focus on areas in which it has a unique capability and value.” Chertoff went on to say those areas include working with the private sector; providing information and intelligence useful to the protection of critical infrastructure; and finally, working with state and local officials, including police and first responders.

The judge, who also testified recently on the subject before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, believes the DHS should leverage its “unique interest and capabilities” to deliver intelligence and information to all of those stakeholders. Asked to compare and contrast the security threat to the nation as it existed when he headed up the DHS with the present day, Chertoff said he believes that homegrown terrorism has become a bigger concern as U.S. officials are more successful in blocking foreign operatives from entering the country. 

“There has to be more of a focus on intelligence collection, analysis and distribution as it pertains to things that are occurring inside of the U.S. at a local level.” Chertoff also says that, since his tenure as the DHS secretary, cybersecurity has become an even bigger area of concern, and that the agency needs to, “under its authority, be able to draw on the capabilies of the intelligence community (IC) and the Defense Department, which have a lot of experience and specialized knowledge that can be helpful in the cybersecurity area.”

Currently, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, headed by DHS Undersecretary Caryn Wagner, is responsible for coordinating the sharing of intelligence information between the IC and the domestic law enforcement community. 

Chertoff says that his successor, Secretary Janet Napolitano, “understood when she came in that an important part of the value of DHS was growing out these relationships with local officials, the fusion centers, and information sharing at a local level, and I think that’s been consistent with what we are recommending.” One key to the current model of DHS information sharing efforts has been the network of fusion centers, physical meeting and workspaces where federal, state and local law enforcement officials can gather to routinely exchange information, and also coordinate emergency response activities.

Chertoff notes that current efforts to reign in government spending will mean that “state and local governments will have less money to put into these [fusion centers], and the federal government is going to have less money, and so it’s going to be important to try to develop the concept, recognizing that the money isn’t going to be what it once was in terms of direct grants or support.”

Judge Chertoff emphasizes that despite his recommendations for a shift in focus to more domestic intelligence, it’s vital for the DHS to continue its  relationship with the director of National Intelligence (DNI), and that it continue its mission of sharing information with the rest of the IC. 

“DHS shouldn’t be isolated from the rest of the intelligence community and only focus on state and local and private infrastructure,” he  explains, “rather, that its emphasis should be on those areas, and should continue to share across the broader community.”

Related:

Sharing Homeland Security Information (Signal, February 2012):  http://www.afcea.org/signal/articles/templates/Signal_Article_Template.asp?articleid=2870&zoneid=338

Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group: “Homeland Security and Intelligence: Next Steps in Evolving the Mission”  http://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/homeland-security-intelligence-next-steps-evolving-mission