23 April 2010

International Fusion Centers: Are They Possible?

*This post is not as well-researched as I would like it to be. Rather, it is more of a "stream of consciousness" of what I am thinking and how I am envisioning the end goal. It is an activity in both inner-dialogue and discussion with the reader.

This is an "idea of the day," so please share your insights as they percolate or simply bring me back to earth on this one. Either way, a forum-style platform to generate innovative ideas - or re-visit old ones - is how organizational structures and stragetic developments like this begin to manifest themselves.

In the midst of fighting a global war on terrorism, which we may de-construct to understand - according to one theory - as increasingly decentralized in nature, our intelligence collection apparatus and conjoining skills are prime. In short, intelligence enables decision-makers to drive operations, both on a domestic scale with criminal investigations and an international scale with combined arms.

As we are well aware, we were comforted once again in the wake of Abdulmutallab's underpants attempted-bombing to learn that our intelligence collection methods are solid but were frightened to learn that our intelligence sharing across the board did not produce. As a direct result, and rightfully so, there continues to be an increasing focus on strengthening intelligence-sharing protocols, procedures, and processes because of the threat that "there will be more like [Abdulmutallab]."

For further in-depth reading of creating structures for intelligence sharing, you can read a report by the Heritage Foundation, which called back in 2002 to institute a federal department under the control of the President to "confront the blizzard of information" for the purpose of identifying, tracking, monitoring, and responding to suspected terrorists and actual terrorist activity(ies).

An initiative has followed, now under the leadership of the DOJ, known as the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, to set-up successful fusion centers accessible by the DHS, FBI, and HHS, amongst others, in support of domestic criminal investigations, including terrorism. Law Enforcement, Intelligence, Public Safety, and the Private Sector act as stakeholders who "embody the core of collaboration" by working with effective tools to do more with less "as demands increase and resources decrease."

*The DOJ would greatly benefit from, as they may already be, the DHS' Global Terrorism Database - housed at the University of Maryland - that examines intelligence on domestic and international case events. Just as with, for example, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) while mobile on the ground, how the "user" decides with the intelligence provided determines the success or failure of the mission.

I agree with the idea of this institution, but think that a real-time issue is the actual task of building trusted relationships. That which we certainly agree on, namely, to dynamically examine the terrorist puzzle, can be systematically successful if we master a comprehensive method of collaboration that willingly puts the pieces together. The promise lies in the fact that we have already the best minds and acquired skills. Training (of the user) is essential.

Given these preliminary considerations (which I encourage you to either approve of and add to or tackle and dismiss), I think it is valuable to begin with many similar constructs such as "building trusted relationships" while recognizing the obvious constraints of a) compromising intelligence and/or b) endangering lives (which are in this case, nations and/or nations' agencies). One perspective I have held is that intelligence sharing and therefore the intelligence fusion is grounded in "relationship sharing," what is understood generally as social networking - a primary business term - but is meant here as locating "who" knows "what" information. Successful collaboration, as mentioned above, will ensure (at least to a higher degree than before) a successful exploitation of data.

In order to achieve mission-critical objectives, the "relationship" must be protected in order to establish long-term trust, as intelligence that is shared may not lead to the end but only be one step towards putting more pieces together. Applying this understanding to an international framework, can fusion centers maximize intelligence by building and maintaining trustful relationships with nation governments and intelligence agencies? In other words, because the terrorist activity(ies) happens on a global scale does the intelligence community need to create international structures, concretely or in TTP's, to provide a solution to the morphing problem? If nations can share relationships, the idea is that intelligence will be more timely, accurate, and useful in relation to the problem.

If so, it seems an international fusion center (remember, this is in a perfect world) requires first the solid development of partnerships between major players, a go-to list of who can help and how. I think it is wise to center our effort on the stakeholders in the Middle East, in two categories (which I think are obvious):
Group A

Group B
Saudi Arabia

In contrast, we must decide who the major antagonists are, who may be grouped together. Iran, of course, comes to mind, which would then include Venezuela. On the table for further discussion is both Russia and China, who in philosophy are competitors that will certainly not be willing to share (any bit of) intelligence but are key economic brokers in the Middle East.

Concluding Thoughts
Lastly, before I leave this post to the wolves for shredding (for positive growth), I think an aspect of our stragetic planning needs to include the formulation of a) incentives for partners to involve themselves and in good, consistent manner and timely fashion as well as b) consequences and punishments for i) partners who do no share according to terms and/or breach trust and ii) competitors who seek to or succeed in disrupting, dismantling, and defeating the fusion process.

Once again, I think the main question is as I stated: "Because terrorist activity(ies) happens on a global scale does the intelligence community need to create international structures, concretely or in TTP's, to provide a solution to the morphing problem? There you have it; no more thinking for the rest of my Friday evening.

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