Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 19, 2009

Intelligence, of all kinds, benefits from education

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 19, 2009

UPDATE: The House Homeland Security Committee adopted an amended Resolution 404.  An archived webcast of about 40 minutes and related correspondence is available at: http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?ID=193

I am not certain, but I perceive the amendment as adopted undertakes to achieve the same functional results as the original proposal — accessing source documentation — but without utilizing a Resolution of Inquiry, what is sometimes called a legislative “nuclear option.”  (Please see the House Rules regarding a Resolution of Inquiry.)

Since this quick update on Tuesday several authorities on the rules and rituals of the House of Representatives have confirmed my interpretation of what happened in the Committee.  Making sense of liver and gallbladder entrails can sometimes be a challenge even when fully displayed. (Please see haruspices)

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This morning the House Homeland Security Committee will consider a proposed Resolution of Inquiry (pdf).  If adopted this would require the Department of Homeland Security to release internal documents related to a DHS intelligence product entitled: Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.

(A copy of the report and the context for it’s original release is available by accessing a prior HLSwatch post.)

A Resolution of Inquiry is a rarely used procedure that requires prompt Committee consideration.  In this instance the proposed resolution is unlikely to be adopted.  Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson has characterized the action as a “GOP stunt.” News reports suggest the Chairman will offer an alternative approach.

The DHS intelligence product, since withdrawn, often indulges in over-broad generalization and fails to support its claims with much evidence.  Criticism of the DHS intelligence product often indulges in over-broad generalization and prefers to ignore evidence that might support the report’s claims.

Last week Secretary Napolitano, responding to questions on the matter during her budget testimony, explained, “It was not authorized to be distributed. It had not even completed its vetting process within the department. It has been taken off of the intel web sites and the lexicon that went along with it was similarly withdrawn. Neither were authorized products, and we have now put in place processes. And it turned out there were really no procedures to govern what went out and what didn’t before, and now there are.”

Vetting outputs is different than ensuring rigorous inputs. In the heated response to the mediocre or worse intelligence product, not much light has been shed on the processes that led to its compilation.  I have heard the following explanations or speculation:

  • The language and treatment was selected to match what the product’s consumers — mostly State and local law enforcement — would find helpful. (The phrase “dumbed-down” has unfortunately been used.)
  • The language and treatment was chosen to highlight a threat some DHS analysts perceive has been given too little attention. (Well, if so,  lack of attention is no longer the biggest problem.)
  • The language and treatment resulted from a rather thoughtless cut-and-paste job from various public sources of information. (For example, compare the contents of the report to Wikipedia’s entry on domestic terrorism.)

An important factor in the analytic anemia demonstrated by the rightwing extremism report is an over-dependence on foreign and military intelligence paradigms when doing domestic risk analysis.

Foreign and military intelligence operations usually have very different purposes than criminal intelligence or all-hazards risk analysis.  Foreign and military intelligence gathering is often covert; domestic analysis should usually be overt and open.  Moreover, inside the United States Constitutional  protections — especially those of the first and fourth amendments — apply in a way that foreign and military intelligence analysts do not need to consider.

From a policy perspective these important differences are widely recognized.  But in terms of education, training, information gathering  processes, analytical procedures, and information sharing the differences are much less well-defined.  Many domestic analysts — especially with classified clearances – have come to their positions from military intelligence operations.  Their extensive military training and experience tends to trump the very modest orientation they receive for their new domestic role.

The need for education and training is especially acute among State and regional fusion centers.  A 2008 GAO survey of fusion center leadership found, “challenges obtaining guidance and training. In particular, they (fusion center officials) cited the need for clearer and more specific guidance in a variety of areas, including standards for analyst training and information-sharing policies and procedures, to help address operational challenges.”

I have never encountered a public safety official who purposefully set-out to abuse the Constitution (I expect such individuals exist, but I have not met them).  I have, however, met plenty of public safety officials — and others — who have received almost no education or training related to Constitutional protections and equally modest preparation in critical assessment of information.

I don’t know — and don’t care — who is to blame for the DHS  report.  We should all care about improving the professional development of those charged with developing such reports.

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More background:

A couple of “ancient texts” that may support the argument:

Intelligence Essentials for Everyone  (Joint Military Intelligence College) is an excellent primer on military intelligence, but consider what is missing if the same skills are applied to domestic targets and purposes.

Intelligence Led Policing: The New Intelligence Architecture (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance) helps distinguish between foreign and military intelligence and criminal intelligence.  Expansion of these principles to an all-hazards — or all-risks — context is attempted by Catastrophe Preparation and Prevention for Law Enforcement Professionals  (self-promotion alert).

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 19, 2009 @ 8:38 am

Do we have any kind of timeline on the document? For example, how was the study authorized in first place, when, where, why, by whom, etc.? And then what was the inputting and vetting process? Was it deliberately leaked before being final and by whom? When did stories of its existence first hit the internet or press? What other products were released publically, if any, during the Bush era by the Intel folks at DHS to State and Local law enforcement?
Remembering that domestic intel was a primary reason for the creation of DHS what do we know of its history and methods of collection, analysis, and surveillance at this juncture? What steps were taken to obtain an effectiveness review of the Intel arm of DHS after the new Secretary arrived, if any? What is the FTE strength of the Intel section and what is their annual budget starting with inception of organization? How much direct oversight in the form of hearings (any under oath) has Congress given to this operation and was any conducted by the Intel Committees of House and Senate or just the Homeland Security committees? How does DHS relate to the DNI operation? How does intel flow up in DHS as well as down? Given the Intelligence Reorganization did it have any impact on DHS or change anything in DHS to the better or worse? How does DHS refer domestic surveillance request to the FBI? Have any been made public? What is the open source operation like in DHS Intel? Bottom line what training and education and experience do the persons in the INTEL orgs of DHS have? How many are former military? How many are former CIA or DIA or other parts of the civilian intel community as described by EO 12333? And on and on! Do we care? Should we care? Do we know? Should we know?

Comment by Larry Irons

May 19, 2009 @ 10:53 am

No doubt increased training would benefit the process. I would also suggest that requiring intelligence analysts to “write for release” would allow editorial review of the content of “classified” documents by those without the conditioned thinking involved in obtaining a secret, or top secret, clearance. Implementing the guidelines offered in the second Markle Foundation Report, especially Appendix D, would be a useful start.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 19, 2009 @ 11:53 am

My belief is that classification guides are still required for all programs, functions, and activities that involve classified matters. I understand not one has ever been produced by DHS in violation of EO and Information Security Oversight Guidelines. Hope this is not true, but that is my information. In my 20 years in FEMA besides at one time having authority for SAP designated programs, FEMA NEVER produced a single classification guide. FEMA lost its authority to designate an SAP program with the onset of the Clinton Adminstration.

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