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Back to Archives | Back to February 2012 Contents 

Unifying Processes for Threat Reporting and Information Sharing to Prevent Terrorist Attacks

By Mark Giuliano, Executive Assistant Director, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C.

haring information, especially potential threat-related information, is crucial to protecting the United States and its communities from a terrorist attack. Different agencies, at all levels of government, may have various pieces of the puzzle that, when put together, illustrate a real threat that agencies may not have seen independently. There are, however, many different channels for exchanging information—both formal and informal—which can create confusion and increase the chance that essential details will slip through the cracks.

For these reasons, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues to work closely with its federal, state, and local partners to make the processes for communicating and sharing information as easy and efficient as possible. Through a range of efforts, from clarifying how and to whom one should report suspicious activity to implementing technological enhancements for information sharing systems, these initiatives aim to improve the ability of all levels of law enforcement to combat the increasingly diverse threats facing the United States.

Unified Messages

One example of these efforts, several agencies comprising the Unified Message Task Team met at IACP headquarters for two days in December to develop a unified message intended to heighten public awareness about law enforcement efforts and to build a cohesive voice across the law enforcement community. The task force meeting included state and local law enforcement chief executives; leadership from the IACP, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative Program Management Office, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council; and fusion center representatives.

The task force took a critical look at what appears to be a simple question: Whom does one call to report suspicious activity? The question could be complicated depending on who is calling whom. Whom does the public call? Whom does state or local law enforcement call if the information should be passed on to others?

Knowing that clear, consistent communication benefits everyone, the task force outlined general messaging for two primary groups: the public and law enforcement. In addition, the task force addressed related messaging for elected public officials and their staffs.

For the public, the task force will work closely with the DHS to support the department’s If You See Something, Say Something campaign, with the DHS creating training materials and other stakeholders offering input. The materials will be created to allow local entities to tailor them to their needs, spreading the message for the public to report suspicious activity while also protecting civil rights and privacy. The goal is to communicate to the public that no matter which law enforcement office individuals call—local police, the FBI, the DHS, or others—the appropriate information will reach the proper authorities.

The task force partners also will combine efforts to ensure that local law enforcement agencies develop proper Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) procedures. Local and state law enforcement should report suspicious activity that is potentially terrorism related to either the appropriate fusion center for their area of responsibility (AOR) or to the FBI through the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), understanding that each will communicate the information to the other.

Local and state law enforcement should report suspicious activity that is potentially terrorism related to either the appropriate fusion center for their area of responsibility (AOR) or to the FBI through the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), understanding that each will communicate the information to the other.

State and local law enforcement agencies not currently familiar with contacting the JTTF for their AOR can reach the JTTF through a local FBI field office or an FBI resident agency. The task force also will continue to support the Nationwide SAR Initiative, which provides important training to law enforcement on reporting to fusion centers and the FBI JTTFs. Plans exist for the FBI, the DHS, the DOJ, and the IACP to launch a coordinated effort in their support for training officers and recruits, as well as to coordinate their outreach to state and local police and sheriff associations.

The task force also is working to ensure that stakeholders are speaking with one voice to Congress, other elected officials, and their appointees and staffs in order to support one another’s roles and dispel the misperception of duplication of effort and competition. This will ensure elected leaders at all levels in government have the facts they need to make informed decisions on current and proposed laws, programs, and policies.

The task force plans to reconvene in March to review progress and consider future initiatives to strengthen cooperation in order to combat violent extremism and terrorist activities in the United States.

eGuardian, Shared Space Linked

Another example of the law enforcement community working to improve the way it communicates and shares information is the work it has done to implement technological enhancements to information sharing systems. Over the past few months, the National SAR Initiative’s Program Management Office (NSI-PMO) and the FBI have worked closely to implement technical and business processes that enable eGuardian and the Information Sharing Environment’s Shared Space systems to “talk” to one another better and share information more quickly and efficiently without duplicating efforts or changing how agencies currently use each system.

The Shared Space is a valuable tool that numerous fusion centers use to share potential terrorism-related information. eGuardian is an unclassified threat-tracking system that the FBI uses to accept and track investigative leads concerning events or behaviors that are potentially terrorism related; this includes SARs entered by state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, fusion centers, and other federal agencies. It also serves as an information sharing platform with search capability and analytic tools. eGuardian automatically pushes SARs to Shared Space, as well as to FBI’s Guardian system, which is eGuardian’s classified counterpart that the FBI uses to analyze and compare SARs with other information uniquely available to the FBI as a member of the intelligence community.

Because the FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating terrorism threats within the United States and uses eGuardian and Guardian, it is critical that SARs entered into the Shared Space, which are by definition terrorism related, are pushed to eGuardian in a way that important information is not lost. This ensures that the FBI receives any time-sensitive information in a format structured for use in Guardian, and it guarantees that the FBI can track SARs, ensuring accountability for analysis and investigations by the JTTFs.

To make certain that agencies can continue to use whatever system best meets their unique needs and control their information while ensuring that any SARs entered into Shared Space will also be pushed into eGuardian, the law enforcement community has worked closely with the NSI-PMO to synchronize the technology and business processes of the two systems. While the FBI continues its work to fine tune and improve this synchronization, as of December 1, 2011, SARs began to pass between Shared Space and eGuardian without losing important information or encountering substantial delay, without duplicating end users’ efforts, and without fundamentally changing either the Shared Space or eGuardian system.

To facilitate these changes and in response to feedback the FBI received from some of the fusion center partners who use Shared Space, the FBI has modified the retention period in Guardian to more closely mirror the five-year retention period in Shared Space and eGuardian. Now, if after five years the SAR has not been queried beyond the initial entry, it will be placed in an archive for anothe five years where it will not be available for general viewing or analysis and accessible only for operational reasons and with supervisory permission. After that, the SAR will be removed from Guardian.

FBI and Fusion Center Partnership

In addition to improving messaging and technology, the FBI also has enhanced its engagement with state and major urban area fusion centers, with many new initiatives focused on information sharing and collaboration. The FBI’s Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs) and fusion centers share a common mission of gathering, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence information to mitigate threats to the United States. There has been a deliberate approach to staff fusion centers with experienced intelligence analysts from the FIGs to enhance information sharing and analysis among all levels of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and homeland security partners.

As of December 2011, the FBI had 95 personnel assigned in either a full- or part-time capacity to 55 of the 72 recognized fusion centers, with the ultimate goal of staffing all primary centers with intelligence analysts as resources become available. Of the 95 FBI personnel, 68 are intelligence analysts. Moreover, 13 of those fusion centers are colocated in FBI office space, which increases the amount of interaction, collaboration, and connectivity between the FIGs, the JTTFs, and the burgeoning national network of fusion centers. Other initiatives are under way to ensure greater dialogue among the senior leaders of FBI field offices and fusion centers, such as joint participation on executive and advisory boards as well as educational orientation programs at the national level, developed specifically for FBI field executive managers and fusion center directors.

These critical steps—whether behind-the-scenes, in conversations, through engagement initiatives, or through technology—are intended to better coordinate task force efforts and fill communication gaps with essential federal, state, and local law enforcement partners. There are still areas that individuals within the law enforcement community can improve, but there is movement in the right direction.

Terrorism prevention and protection of the American people can be achieved only when law enforcement works together, communicates effectively and consistently, and looks for solutions. The FBI looks forward to working with all of its partners to combine and adapt capabilities to keep the United States safe. ■

Please cite as:

By Mark Giuliano, "Unifying Processes for Threat Reporting and Information Sharing to Prevent Terrorist Attacks," The Police Chief 79 (February 2012): 44–48.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 2, February 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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