By Ambassador Thomas E. McNamara, Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, Washington, D.C.
n October 31, 2007, U.S. president George W. Bush announced the release of the National Strategy for Information Sharing. Joining the president were his homeland security advisor; the secretary of homeland security; the acting attorney general; the director of national intelligence; the author; and representatives of the IACP and other professional organizations representing state, local, and tribal officials from across the United States.
The strategy is intended to ensure that those responsible for combating terrorism and protecting local communities have access to the timely and accurate information they need in the following ways:
- Providing a framework for enhanced information sharing among federal, state, local, and tribal officials; the private sector; and foreign partners to aid their individual missions and to help secure the U.S. homeland
- Describing the federal government's approach to supporting state and major–urban area fusion centers, as well as national efforts to fight crime and make local communities safer
- Recognizing that as information-sharing capabilities are enhanced, it is imperative that the legal rights of U.S. citizens continue to be protected, especially in the area of privacy and civil liberties
The strategy sets forth a vision to guide information-sharing efforts for years to come, and it pragmatically builds upon past progress to establish a national information-sharing capability. It is based on the simple principle that those who need information to protect U.S. communities will get the information they need. The National Strategy was developed in close partnership with state, local, and tribal officials across the United States.
There should be no doubt that the United States is better organized and prepared to deter terrorist threats than in 2001. But that temporary success does not ensure long-term victory. The ability to prevent terrorist attacks depends on the ability to gather, analyze, and share information regarding potential terrorists.
Those responsible for protecting U.S. communities from terrorism must have up-to-date information regarding the tactics, the targets, and, if possible, the times and places of potential attacks. In this post–September 11 world, state, local, and tribal authorities are full partners in the information sharing that protects the nation:
- State, local, and tribal officials have significant input into national policy on information sharing.
- Many state, local, and tribal officials participate in federal Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
- Police officers can now access terrorist watch list data directly from their patrol cars.
- More than 60 state and regional fusion centers play critical roles in sharing information on all crimes and hazards.
Now this very partnership is being mobilized to implement the National Strategy and address the following challenges:
- Creating a national, integrated network of state and regional fusion centers that support efforts against terrorism, organized crime, gang violence, and other disorders and hazards that U.S. communities face
- Developing community-based, intelligence-led, and information-driven strategies that address all crimes, not just terrorism
- Ensuring that, as this network is set up, personnel receive proper training to identify terrorist threats within local communities, without overestimating or underestimating the threat
- Providing federal, state, and local personnel proper training in and then access to sensitive information, while ensuring that such information is protected from inappropriate use or disclosure
- Maintaining at all times the strongest commitment to the high national priority of preserving, protecting, and defending the information privacy and legal rights of U.S. citizens
The United States is beginning a long-term transformation to complete the move of government into the new information age. Some fear this transformation and would like to restrict the ability of government entities to use cutting-edge tools to fight crime and specifically terrorism. But 21st-century technologies cannot be made available to societies around the world—among them the adversaries of the United States—while governmental institutions are condemned to outdated policies and methodologies. A democratically based, federally structured, and responsibly guided national effort can protect U.S. society and civil liberties without endangering either. Implementing the National Strategy for Information Sharing now will lead to the achievement of all of these goals. The Program for the Information Sharing Environment looks forward to its continued partnership with the membership of the IACP in making this a reality. ■