DHS intel reports way too slow, local officials say
The Department of Homeland Security is so slow getting intelligence bulletins to state and local police “fusion centers” that they are nearly worthless, according to an internal audit released on Monday.
The bulletins, called Homeland Intelligence Reports, or HIRs, are “used to share information quickly with state and local personnel on suspicious activities prior to being fully vetted,” the inspector general’s report explained.
But in the first three months of 2010 alone, it said, 144 HIRs produced by DHS’s intelligence and analysis wing were overdue, with “93 more than 90 days behind schedule.”
DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the intelligence and analysis office "has efforts underway to address the OIG’s recommendations."
One HIR, with “information about a suspicious individual ... was 6 months old,” a fusion center official told auditors.
“Another fusion center official said that it can take 9 to 10 months for the HIRs it produces to be disseminated, resulting in delayed access to this information for other fusion centers.”
“As a result,” the auditors said, “the information contained in the HIRs may no longer be relevant by the time it reaches the fusion centers.”
Fusion center personnel blamed “the lengthy DHS headquarters review process” as the main cause for delays.
The situation has prompted some fusion centers to opt out of the DHS process and turn to the FBI to share unfinished intelligence information, said the report, signed by Frank Deffer, assistant inspector general for information technology audits.
On the other hand, some officials also said DHS’s National Operations Center has “made progress” in sharing incident information with the fusion centers, which state and regional police and emergency-response agencies began setting up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to pool information.
Back in 2005, after the London subway bombings, the IG said, it took DHS’s intelligence analysts “several months” to distribute its report on the incident.
But now the process is “much timelier,” the IG said.
“Personnel at one fusion center .. said that they now receive NOC updates every few minutes when incidents of national significance occur.”
“For example, personnel at one fusion center said that information was shared effectively when a plane that had possibly been hijacked was heading toward that fusion center’s state,” the IG said. “The NOC called the fusion center to inform them of the situation, and the fusion center was able to work with state partners to manage the situation, which turned out to be a false alarm.”
The system, which now has a fusion center in every state and 22 in major urban areas, has also “assisted investigations,” according to auditors.
Their report cited “officials at one fusion center [who] said that they were informed of a suspicious shipment of chemical processing equipment from a private business in the United States to a buyer in the United Kingdom. Fusion center analysts passed this information to DHS, which then alerted the appropriate officials in the United Kingdom, leading to an investigation.”
But the report also said local officials still don’t trust DHS’s information-sharing architecture and often turn to e-mail as a substitute.
How to share reports and data -- and finding a proper role for the department’s information and analysis wing itself -- has vexed officials since DHS was created on Nov. 25, 2002.
Charles E. Allen, a retired longtime CIA official who was DHS’s top intelligence official from late 2007 to early 2009, once told Congress he envisioned “a seamless community of intelligence professionals, stretching out across the nation, to our partners in state and local fusion centers, and inclusive of traditional intelligence professionals, of law enforcement professionals, and of state, local and private sector intelligence professions.”
Years later, that’s still a work in progress.
| November 15, 2010; 6:45 PM ET
Categories: Homeland Security, Intelligence
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