Sharing Homeland Security Information

February 2012
By Max Cacas, SIGNAL Magazine

The agency’s intelligence office builds bridges with the law enforcement community.

The Department of Homeland Security is adapting intelligence community tools to facilitate information sharing among its diverse elements. These include social media-based successes as well as information fusion centers across the nation.

In the effort to secure the U.S. homeland, one of the most vital tools is information, and getting it to the people who can make the best use of it in a timely manner is absolutely critical. That would be a tall order for any one government agency, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in particular faces unique challenges. It was formed a little more than eight years ago from 22 different government agencies primarily to deal with shortcomings in the way that security and intelligence matters were handled prior to the 9/11 attacks (SIGNAL Magazine, September 2011, page 62).

Interoperability among those diverse organizations is challenging enough, but the DHS also must be able to exchange information where appropriate with local municipalities. And, it must not violate laws that establish firewalls between military operations and domestic law enforcement.

At the nexus of this mission is Caryn A. Wagner, the DHS undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, and also the DHS’s chief intelligence officer (CINT). She acknowledges that most of her job in helping build bridges between disparate communities of interest among domestic and foreign intelligence, and domestic law enforcement at the state, local and tribal levels, involves “empowering, enabling and facilitating.”

Describing the mission of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), Wagner notes that intelligence is a key factor in supporting almost all the activities of the department. The presidential task force examining the 9/11 attacks more than 10 years ago cited a governmentwide failure to properly share intelligence for the attacks.

“Our job is to equip the Homeland Security Enterprise with the tools it needs to keep the homeland safe, secure and resilient,” she emphasizes.

Early this year, the I&A office expects to roll out the software tool H-Space for use primarily by the local law enforcement sphere of the intelligence enterprise (IE). If that sounds familiar, she says, it is because H-Space has its software roots in the intelligence community.

“We’ve rehosted software that the DNI [director of national intelligence] and the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] had done in the TS/SCI [Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information] world that was called A-Space, or ‘analytic space,’ into the Secret domain,” she explains. “We’re calling it H-space, or ‘homeland space,’ and we’re going to create that same social networking, collaborative social networking environment on the Homeland Secure Data Network for our components and our partners at the state and local levels who have secret clearance.” She adds that information with a Secret classification is the highest, in general, that the DHS is allowed to share with those in local law enforcement.

Launched nearly four years ago, A-Space is an online collaboration tool used by the intelligence community. It is modeled after widely used civilian social networking sites such as Facebook, and has been widely praised in the intelligence community for providing an easy-to-use and readily accessible tool for groups of intelligence community analysts to work together.

Wagner says that initially H-Space will be launched as a pilot program late in March, and she hopes to be able to expand it to other entities within the DHS. She believes that H-Space can capture some of the success enjoyed by A-Space.

Wagner, who has been on the job running the I&A since February 2010, states that her primary job is to provide the tools and analysis needed to fulfill the mission of the DHS. “I have a role in running I&A,” she says, “and making sure we are producing the kinds of information and intelligence no one else is producing, and sharing that with our partners.”

Increasingly, those partners include not only DHS agency components such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Secret Service, but also law enforcement officials at the state, local and tribal levels.

Within the DHS, Wagner has a number of tools at her disposal to coordinate intelligence activities there. “I chair a group called the Homeland Security Intelligence Council,” she explains, which is composed of chiefs of intelligence of the department’s component agencies. She says the goal is to “find synergy” between the DHS’s organizations on a wide variety of mission-related questions. Those include standardizing formats for reporting information to the nation’s intelligence community and forming working groups to address specific concerns. She says council members meet in person once a month and also hold shorter weekly meetings via secure video conference call.

Beyond the fences of the DHS’s secure campus in northwest Washington, D.C., Wagner’s portfolio also includes the DHS IE. That part of her job defines and informs her role as DHS CINT.

“I have to figure out how to meet the needs of that extended enterprise—our state, local, tribal and territorial customers, and the private-sector customers, to share information with them that comes from the intelligence community, that gives them information that they can use and act on,” she allows.

Part of the challenge involves sifting through intelligence and, by sanitizing the most sensitive data, making it possible for those partners with Secret or Classified clearances to examine the information and act upon it. “We do this in conjunction with our infrastructure protection folks and with the FBI,” she says, to give law enforcement officials “news you can use.”

In addition, Wagner’s office serves as a conduit for information that comes from law enforcement officials, that could be of interest to the national intelligence community.

Wagner believes the expanded sharing of information within the DHS, among the agencies of the foreign and domestic intelligence community, and with local law enforcement, is one of the biggest changes in the way that all three spheres work together to ensure homeland security. The challenge, she says, is finding a juggler’s sense of balance in crafting an operational framework to make this happen.

“One of the things I’m doing with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. is trying to lay out this model in a way that will help us work across the boundaries of those three operating spheres to make sure we’ve got the right intelligence and information sharing connections,” Wagner relates.

She says the primary challenge is that each of these spheres has its own legal regimes. “What we want to do is look at these three spheres, identify the players, identify the authorities they are operating under, and then figure out how to do the appropriate linkages, so that we are being mutually reinforcing.”

This effort also reinforces her unique status among her counterparts. Not only does she report directly to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, but also, as a member of the intelligence community, she also reports directly to DNI Clapper.

Wagner acknowledges that for the third and largest sphere—law enforcement at the state, county, local, tribal and territorial levels—information sharing also is a challenge, but with a key difference. “When that comes up, it generally comes up in the context of wanting to share information that is part of an active and ongoing investigation,” she points out. “That has been a bone of contention among some people. My experience has been, working with the FBI, that if there is a specific, credible threat involving an individual, a location, or anything concrete, there’s a duty to warn that we share in the intelligence community—that if you know something is happening, you have an obligation.”

Wagner says that once her agency has met what she describes as a “duty to warn,” the next logical part of the process is to allow any and all investigations to run their course and then compile any lessons learned, which can be shared more broadly with other law enforcement agencies.

A key to distributing information to the law enforcement sphere is fusion centers. Depending on the jurisdiction, fusion centers serve as a gathering place for officials from the DHS, for national law enforcement organizations such as the FBI, and for representatives from local law enforcement to routinely exchange information. They also serve as a center for the exchange of emergency information.

Wagner acknowledges that because of different laws from state to state, and even from cities to counties, no two fusion centers are alike. “They are growing and maturing across the board,” she explains, “some faster than others. What we usually focus on, instead of a particular model, is critical operating capabilities that we want them all to have.”

She says that work has included the DNI Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, which was another organization created in the wake of the 9/11 report. It is tasked with expanding information sharing within and outside of the federal realm.

Wagner says fusion center assistance includes helping states to develop their own intelligence analysis capabilities, and to find ways to help states share the information they have gathered. “We hold conferences and workshops,” she explains, “to share best practices from the fusion centers that are making the most progress.”

She notes that, in general, the fusion centers “in large urban areas” seem to have the most resources for the tasks they are asked to carry out. Both Tennessee and Colorado, she adds, have been recognized with “National Fusion Center of the Year” honors during the annual meeting of the National Fusion Center Conferences, the most recent of which was held last March in Denver, Colorado.

In 2012, Wagner says, her office will expand the amount of joint analytic work that it does with the fusion centers, which is a result of the work that has gone into building the centers’ local analysis capabilities.

Acknowledging the budget-constrained times ahead for all government agencies, Wagner says that her office nonetheless is working to expand some of its information technology capabilities. She hopes to work with the CBP on development of the ability to search “cross-domain” for information relevant to the CBP’s border protection mission that might be found in other substantial databases with different security classifications. Long term, she hopes to expand what she calls “federated searches,” taking advantage of current efforts within the department to standardize role-based access to data.

DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis:




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