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Back to Archives | Back to February 2011 Contents 

Nationwide SAR Initiative Delivers Value to Fusion Centers

By Doug Keyer, Captain, New York State Police, and Director, New York State Intelligence Center; and Lehew W. Miller III, Lieutenant, Virginia State Police, and Director, Virginia Fusion Center



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Real Stories of Real Results

The May 1, 2010, attempted car bombing in New York City’s Times Square highlighted the value of fusion centers as they queried state and local databases, as well as the NSI Federated Search, to add value to the investigative efforts of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). Analysts at one center discovered two subjects in their state that were associates of Faisal Shahzad, the primary suspect. This information was passed back to the fusion centers and JTTFs. Based on the information found by fusion centers, additional intelligence products were created by the National Counter Terrorism Center. The FBI then met with the fusion center that found the information to review additional threat and financial information that was linked to the subjects of interest.

Outreach by a local police department to educate home improvement store employees about identifying suspicious purchases, especially those regarding the acquisition of large quantities of specific types of chemicals, led to the reporting of several purchases of acetone to the state fusion center and the JTTF, which potentially involved the same subjects. Acetone and hydrogen peroxide are the main ingredients in making triacetone triperoxide (TAPT), which is a preferred explosive agent for terrorists and suicide bombers because it is easy to obtain, difficult to detect, and easily detonated. The suspects were identified and interviewed, and it was determined the subjects were collecting materials for the manufacture of drugs.

Due to outreach to storage facility employees by a fusion center, an employee noticed something unusual while working at a self-storage facility and contacted the local police. The police ran checks and found that the FBI JTTF had an active investigation and the individuals associated with the storage unit were currently under surveillance. Two weeks after reporting the activity, four men were arrested for plotting to detonate explosives near a synagogue and conspiring to shoot down with stinger missiles military planes located at a National Guard Base.

very day, in the course of their duties, law enforcement officers observe suspicious behaviors and receive such reports from concerned civilians, private security, and other government agencies. What might not seem significant at the time, when combined with other circumstances, may become a composite indicating the possibility of criminal—or even terrorist—activity.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it became obvious that law enforcement needs to connect the dots of suspicious activity before an incident occurs. This is imperative to keep the United States safe.

With the creation and institutionalization of a national network of fusion centers, law enforcement officers across the country now have a means by which to share information and analyze data to detect and prevent terrorism and other criminal activity.

To support this effort, the 2007 National Strategy for Information Sharing1 called for the establishment of a “unified process for reporting, tracking, and accessing [suspicious activity reports]”2 in a manner that rigorously protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans—what is now the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI).

On December 17, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice was tasked with creating a program management office to coordinate a national framework for sharing suspicious activity reports that are critical to preventing criminal activity, particularly that with a potential nexus to terrorism.

As a result, on March 1, 2010, the NSI Program Management Office was set up within the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Since 2009, the NSI process has been fully implemented in 13 fusion centers and is currently at initial operating capability in another 11. For an additional 6 fusion centers, connection is imminent, which will result in more than 64 percent of the U.S. population covered by the NSI process.

With this many sites live and with outreach and implementation efforts under way to other sites, it is important to determine what value the NSI process has added to fusion centers.

Prior to the creation of the NSI, when the business processes were being defined and trainings for analysts and line officers were being developed, several locations were asked to participate in an evaluation environment, or pilot phase, to help determine what policies and procedures are needed for implementation.

Two of the sites at the state level that participated in this were the Virginia State Fusion Center and the New York State Intelligence Center.

Now that the sites have been fully operational for the past year, the authors have reached back to evaluate how implementation of the NSI has been useful and provided value to these two sites. ■

Notes:

1National Strategy for Information Sharing: Successes and Challenges in Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing (October 2007), http://www.surfacetransportationisac.org/SupDocs/NSIS_book.pdf (accessed December 21, 2010).
2“Appendix 1 – Establishing a National Integrated Network of State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers,” in National Strategy for Information Sharing: Successes and Challenges in Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing (October 2007), A1–7, http://www.surfacetransportationisac.org/SupDocs/NSIS_book.pdf (accessed December 21, 2010).

In Their Own Words:

Virginia Fusion Center and New York State Intelligence Center Directors Reflect on the Value of the NSI



Virginia Fusion Center


Lieutenant Lehew W. Miller III currently serves as the director of the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) where he is responsible for commanding the day-to-day operations of 45 individuals from federal and state agencies. He has been a member of the Virginia State Police for more than 18 years.

How has the SAR effort enabled you to better define the threat picture in your community?

We are able to conduct more SAR frontline training, which in return has provided our local, state, and federal partners a defined mechanism and standard to report suspicious activity and build on the intelligence sharing environment. Our training efforts in Virginia also have encouraged state and local law enforcement to support the mission of the NSI and the VFC in reporting suspicious activity relating to their jurisdictions.

Has the implementation of standardized processes made the sharing of information across jurisdictions easier and, if so, in what way?

Yes. Having the defined criteria helps tremendously. Our shared space provides an arena where intelligence is shared across all lines of federal, state, and local components. The standardized criteria and guidance provided has assisted VFC personnel in better identifying the SAR information collected and vetted.

Are your analysts better able to identify behaviors and indicators, improving the quality of information shared?

Yes. The VFC analysts are better able now to define suspicious activity that meets that threshold. Our analysts are also better prepared to share only that information that rises to the level as defined by NSI, which in fact has improved the quality of the information being shared across all lines.

Has your agency been able to create products based on the SARs coming in, the current threat, and the applicability to your region that are distributed to necessary agencies?

Yes. We consistently incorporate SARs into our daily operations and merge that data with the current local, state, and national threat picture. Various tactical and strategic reports are developed and shared with local, state, and federal partners. The National SAR Initiative has enhanced our ability by having access to the SAR shared space, which in turn allows our center to identify regional and national trends and patterns.

How have the trainings helped you through the process?

The trainings have helped a great deal, particularly with the three levels of NSI training, including frontline officer, analysts training, and law enforcement CEO training. The assistance comes from educating state and local law enforcement to the growing needs of intelligence sharing. The NSI training phases greatly assisted us with the necessary tools and knowledge to promote the national initiative. The SAR frontline officer training that we have provided to our local, state, and federal partners has greatly increased submissions of SARs received from our Virginia law enforcement community.

What is the greatest benefit you’ve seen from implementation of the NSI?

Aside from the increasing benefits of Virginia law enforcement continuing to share intelligence across all lines, two of our greatest benefits have been the standardization of indicators and behaviors and the platform for sharing intelligence through the shared space.


New York State Intelligence Center


Captain Doug Keyer currently serves as the director of the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC), where he is responsible for commanding the day-to-day operations of 90 individuals from 20 federal, state, and local agencies.

How has the SAR effort enabled you to better define the threat picture in your community?

The reporting of suspicious activity has always been viewed by the NYSIC as playing a critical role in the detection and prevention of future terrorist activity. The NSI now enables the NYSIC to go beyond the information collected in New York State and search against reporting from various areas across the United States, thus creating more opportunities to identify and connect possible commonalities among the SAR initiative.

Has the implementation of standardized processes made the sharing of information across jurisdictions easier and, if so, in what way?

Yes, it has made it easier, but I do not feel that all participants are sharing as much SAR information as they could be. The standardized criteria and guidance provided has definitely assisted NYSIC personnel in better identifying the SAR information collected that should be shared with other jurisdictions. Defining the criminal and potential terrorist activities using specific categories and providing descriptions of the activities within these categories have streamlined the information sharing process.

Are your analysts better able to identify behaviors and indicators, improving the quality of information shared?

The NYSIC has been receiving suspicious activity reporting since the creation of the New York State Terrorism Tips Hotline in 2002. The ability to appropriately identify suspicious behaviors and indicators by NYSIC personnel existed prior to NSI, but I believe the implementation of the NSI Functional Standard vetting process has improved the quality of the information being shared.

Has your agency been able to create products based on the SARs coming in, the current threat, and the applicability to your region that are distributed to necessary agencies?

Yes. The NYSIC creates products and reports on SAR information collected in New York State and shares them with the appropriate entities. NSI has enhanced that reporting with the access to SAR information being reported in several areas of the country.

How have the trainings helped you through the process?

The SAR training provided has contributed to NYSIC personnel’s ability to better identify information that should be included in the shared space. Additionally, the SAR frontline officer training the NYSIC provided to the New York State field intelligence officers has increased submissions of SARs received from New York State law enforcement agencies.

What is the greatest benefit you’ve seen from implementation of the NSI?

The greatest benefits have been the ability to search against SAR information from across the country, along with the greater awareness among law enforcement on the importance of suspicious activity being reported and shared.


Please cite as:

Doug Keyer and Lehew W. Miller III, "Nationwide SAR Initiative Delivers Value to Fusion Centers," The Police Chief 78 (February 2011): 40–44.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 2, February 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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