Information sharing among police, national and military intelligence

I’ve been reading the latest issue of Homeland Security Affairs and there’s quite a bit to recommend this issue.  I have to admit I was surprised by Cordner and Scarborough’s “Information Sharing: Exploring the Intersection of Policing with National and Military Intelligence“.  It begins by saying “since 9/11 there is evidence of improved intelligence gathering and information sharing.”  Of course, the term ‘improvement’ here should be interpreted in the same way as a ne’er do well son attending an expensive university proclaims his improved grades from miserably failing to just slightly failing…

So, it begins with an overview of the difficulties of integrating the law enforcement community into a larger intelligence framework.

“…information that is not directly connected to an incident, crime, or case does not have a natural home in the typical police records system – there is no file to put it in.”

“…the structure of U.S. policing, the nature of police work, some historical stumbles, and common features of police culture all seem to
conspire against an intelligence-led approach to policing and the free flow of information.”

In the course of describing their findings, the authors level some pretty brutal guns at fusion centers:

One respondent referred several times to the fact that the state police in his state dominate the new fusion center but that information sharing is no better than in the past.

“Our state police Intelligence Branch has been a failure for decades for agencies other than themselves. Even past state police intel commanders will admit that, because of the very nature of the state police to horde information and not share it with others. I have witnessed local intelligence meetings where the state police and at times the FBI have attended and the meeting starts with asking them what they have brought to share. After hearing each of them (mostly state police) say they have nothing to report the group goes around the room and everyone says the same thing. A few words are given of thanks and the meeting has adjourned only to reconvene after the state police have left the building. Then the real information is shared among the locals with a vow of not giving anything to the state police.  We have many statutes that require us to report to the state police but none to require them to share information back to anyone. To state the problem simply:  the state police have an inherent distrust for local LE and all local LE does is mirror that distrust right back at them. (PE)”

At the state level, it seems absolutely essential in the new information sharing environment that fusion centers learn to function as state-wide entities rather than state police entities. In the former mode, they stand a chance of being perceived as serving all agencies in the state, and if they in fact disseminate useful information and products to all agencies, they should become critical assets for both intra-state and national information sharing. On the other hand, if they come to be seen as glorified state police units serving state police interests first and foremost, then they will provide little added value and will not substantially improve information sharing. Local agencies will tend not to participate, they will create their own fusion centers when possible, and they will continue to create their own individual relationships with federal agencies in an ad hoc manner. This seems to be a very crucial distinction that is still being worked out around the country, with no guarantee of success.

Their suggestions then focus on bringing local law enforcement into the fusion center leadership and building more opportunities for information sharing.  While they may improve the issues of trust I’ve been thinking that such suggestions aren’t going to be able to bring about the scope of information sharing and intelligence collection and analysis that are generally claimed to be necessary.  After all, as the authors allude to in the beginning of their article (in the quotes above) and I’ve mentioned earlier here, here, here, and here some of the problems are inherent in how law enforcement operates and has operated for over 100 years.  It seems a bit unrealistic and in some cases unnecessary to change the course of that ship.

What we should consider is developing a domestic intelligence agency, ideally without law enforcement powers and metrics for success that don’t revolve around arrests and contraband seizures to circumvent turf wars.  Such an agency could have it’s own collection assets and should have outside oversight to prevent abuses of collection.

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