Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 28, 2009

Johnson’s testimony on I&A reconceived

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on September 28, 2009

Last Thursday Bart R. Johnson, DHS Acting Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis, testified before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

About the time Mr. Johnson began his testimony, I was taking attendance for an advanced seminar with a name very close to the subcommittee’s. As a result, I did not catch the hearing.   But Mr. Johnson’s testimony deserves more attention than it got from the mainstream media. 

Below are some key excerpts. You can read the complete testimony and access a webcast of the entire hearing from the Committee’s website.

The Acting Undersecretary identified four strategic goals for I&A:

  • Goal 1:  Be the premier provider of homeland security intelligence, which entails building, supporting, and integrating a robust information-sharing capability focused on getting intelligence and homeland security-relevant information to those who need it, when they need it.
  • Goal 2:  Strengthen existing partnerships and forging new ones.
  • Goal 3:  Operate as a single integrated team focused on mission and customers.
  • Goal 4:  Enable the mission by maximizing performance and accountability, including protecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.

Mr. Johnson’s prepared testimony gives considerable attention to  the relationship between I&A and the seventy-two state, local, and tribal fusion centers.  In part, he explained,

One of the primary reasons for I&A’s existence is to strengthen the sharing and dissemination of useful intelligence and information between the federal government and our state, local, tribal and private sector partners.  I take this responsibility seriously, and it is infused into the I&A strategic goals. I&A will provide increasingly functional and useable intelligenceand other information to these partners. Fusion centers are and will continue to be the critical delivery vehicle for this intelligence.   

As Secretary Napolitano has said, while a great deal of information sharing is occurring today—among and between agencies and departments at all levels of government—the key for protecting the Homeland from attack is disseminating usable intelligence and information to our state, local, tribal and private sector partners, getting similar intelligence and information back from those partners for analytic work by I&A and the IC, and ensuring this two-way exchange happens on a real-time basis.  

It may be unintentional — and  I hope it is inaccurate — but the language suggests production of usable intelligence at the federal level that is consumed by the fusion centers and then distributed down a food chain.  What seems to be suggested is a one way supply rather than a meaningful partnership.

I am a big believer in intelligence targeting.  In my seminar, we don’t get to this until late afternoon on the first day.  Before lunch Mr. Johnson was telling the subcommittee that I&A would focus on four priority targets:

  • Analysis of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  I&A will maintain a focused, senior in-house expertise and ensure surge capacity, in coordination with the FBI.
  • Violent Radicalization.  I&A will realign to collaborate with the National Counterterrorism Center and other federal agencies for substantive reporting on violent radicalization.
  • Domestic Terrorism.  I&A will work with the FBI and other law enforcement partners to identify analytic and other reporting relevant to our state, local and tribal consumer base.
  • Health Security.  I&A will work closely with the DHS Office of Health Affairs, in addition to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense as well as other relevant agencies, to identify analytic and other relevant reporting.

That last target is rather interesting, n’est-ce pas?  Can’t you imagine Hercule Poirot’s approach to epidemiology?  Choosing the right targets is tough.  It would be interesting to know more about how these were selected.

Mr. Johnson also emphasizes producing consumer-friendly intelligence products, “We will also commence a comprehensive consumer outreach effort to make sure what we are producing is what our customers at the state, local, territorial, tribal and private sectors want, at the time they want it, and in the form they need it.”  I wonder if there is an alumnus of my seminar on his team?

Even more musical — at least to my ears — was Mr. Johnson’s commitment to training and education.  He said,

Intelligence training is a critical capability that will enable fulfillment of I&A’s strategic goals, and Operations will build on past I&A success in training.  I am determined to prevent the ever-increasing demand for vital training and professional development services from outstripping our ability to deliver, and am therefore increasing the size of I&A’s intelligence training staff.  I&A currently provides a core suite of intelligence training courses for a broad spectrum of intelligence personnel, including state and local analysts and component personnel in the DHS IE.  Our entry level Basic Intelligence and Threat Analysis Course (BITAC) is the hallmark of our training success.  We are proud of the level of participation received from within the Department, graduating 192 students in three years.  As a testament to this success, we were recently asked by U.S Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – both components of the DHS IE –  to train a large cadre of their new hires over the next year.   In addition, state, local and tribal law enforcement officers and other representatives are able to use applicable homeland security grant program funds to participate in BITAC. 

I focus on access and analysis of open sources, so I don’t expect to get a call.  But I will offer some unsolicited advice. 

  • Pay more attention than in the past to strategic intelligence so that tactical intelligence is recognized in-its-context. 
  • If you have an enticing bit of classified intelligence try to confirm it using open sources.  If there is neither historical evidence nor current chatter to suggest validity, be cautious. (That’s not just my opinion, see Ken Liberthal’s study below.)
  • Don’t treat state, local and tribal colleagues merely as consumers, or as junior partners, or as constituents.  Consider them your Jack Ryans. Or better yet a whole team of nouveau Alexis de Tocquevilles listening, watching, and writing with potentially significant insights.  With a little respect and some good questions, they will see more and be able to tell you more than any algorithm.


Very much related, please see a recent Brookings Institution report written by Kenneth G. Liberthalthat is chock full of important insights for the entire Intelligence community.

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Comment by Quin

September 28, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

In an interesting parallel universe. General McCrystal, in an environment that obviously demands an exceptional degree of sensitive information, makes the case for broader information sharing. FWIW.

It’s hard to keep pace with McChrystal as he races through his marathon days. His morning update on the progress of the war starts at 8:30, not 8:31. It’s a standing room-only affair which breaks all the rules about restricting classified information to those with an absolute need to know by using video technology to conference in every one from the Pentagon to the headquarters of the Afghan army.

“One of the things I was looking at just this morning is Taliban reporting on their desire to widen the fight,” McChrystal noted during the briefing.

After the briefing, McChrystal explained to Martin, “The idea is as many stations as you can get in here, and as many people in each one to listen. Just, it cuts the challenge of communicating.”

“Must be hundreds of people,” Martin said, speaking about the people listening to and watching the general’s briefing.

“There are hundreds of people, that’s right,” McChrystal agreed.

“Do you worry about security leaks when you have so many people involved in these things?” Martin asked.

“I’m less worried about leaks than I am about the people who don’t know what we’re trying to, you know, ignorance. So, I think it’s a trade off and I think I come down on this side every time,” he said.


Comment by William R. Cumming

September 28, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

Some background. National Intel Strategy published for first time in October 2005! That document updated, replaced, superseded, revised or whatever most recently the middle of this month.
It is my vague memory that Richard Clarke of “Against All Enemies” fame was offered the DHS INTEL job and retired from FEDERAL SERVICE instead. The charter for INTEL in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 effective March 1, 2003, was somewhat vague but did include responsibilities as assigned by the Secretary DHS! A history of the fusion centers, provided some charter guidance by the Implementation of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act also a tell-tale. Now appears from testimony last
Thursday that the FUSION CENTERS are the key to DHS INTEL future. Not quite sure how they arose but do know that a NTIC and other centers were designed at federal level to share info. Still not sure if DHS believes it is authorized to collect raw INTEL on its own or empower others legally to do so. Is the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis vested statutory authority directly to do anything? Or is it all delegated from the Secretary DHS and if so what has been delegated? Can the Secretary DHS authorize any kind of domestic intel collection? Under what authority? I know questions, questions, questions but somewhat opaque to me. So let’s through out a hypothetical! The large domestic Iranian-American community? Threat or risk? Why or why not? How do we know? Who are the personnel and what Executive Branch organizations are studying this very successful and highly influential community? No answers required just trying to figure out the system? Is there a system?

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