Chertoff details antiterror battle plan to police chiefs

As the United States faces threats from weapons of mass destruction?radiological, chemical, biological or nuclear?as well as high-consequence international and homegrown plots, the Homeland Security Department is working with state, local, federal and international law enforcement to defend the country from terrorism.

Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said stopping domestic terrorism threats is best done through shared intelligence, starting at the local level. To ensure that this coordination and collaboration happens, DHS will establish fusion centers, stocked with experts, and will work to grant clearance of classified information more quickly.

Both initiatives are part of the department's effort to take its relationships with major city police chiefs and information sharing to the next level, Chertoff said at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Boston last week.

The nation saw how important information sharing is two weeks ago. Chertoff cited the recent incident involving the small airplane crashing into the New York City high rise as a great example of agencies working together. It was not immediately known if the crash was a terrorist attack, but first responders were able to inform officials within DHS of what was happening on site, allowing the department to respond to the situation.

Fusion centers are a step in making this a reality around the country.

"First of all, we are going to build upon some of our early initial effort to establish fusion centers by creating a national network of intelligence fusion centers to support state and local decision-makers, chiefs of police, and state and local intelligence officials," Chertoff said.

The fusion centers will be made up of intelligence personnel from the federal intelligence community, subject matter experts and intelligence analysts and operators of local police departments, DHS officials said.

The goal is to "become more deeply embedded in one another's day-to-day intelligence analysis and operational activity," Chertoff said.

Chertoff said of the fusion centers, " it's important to recognize that these are going to be critical pathways for the sharing of information and expertise across the whole spectrum of concerns we gave in dealing with the possibility of terrorism."

DHS plans to have 20 fusion centers by the end of the fiscal year and up to 35 fusion centers by the end of the next fiscal year. They have already invested $380 million in state-run fusion centers. Some states that have fusion centers include Colorado, Illinois, Maryland and New York.

The Justice Department has issued regulations for the fusion centers.

The agency will also work toward speeding up and broadening the clearance process.

Chertoff also said, "As necessary, we're going to work to be more nimble and quicker in granting top secret and SCI [sensitive compartmented information] clearance for those who do not require that level of classified access."

Also, real-time and strategic information sharing is the thrust behind DHS encouraging state and local law enforcement agencies to provide a list of important officials and institutions in their cities that need access to critical information as quickly as federal officials do.

Chertoff assured the chiefs of police that DHS is here to help.

"We will share information. We will share training. We will share tools. And, we will work as a team to make sure that whether terrorism comes in the airplanes, from across the ocean, or whether it's born in apartment buildings in or cities and towns, we will detect it. We will prevent it. And, we will respond to it effectively in the interest of protecting our families, our friends, our loved ones, and our fellow citizens," Chertoff said.

Kerri Hostetler is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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