WASHINGTON -- Nearly a decade after Congress created the Department of Homeland Security to prevent other 9/11-style terrorist attacks, a bipartisan group of experts says it is time for the agency to shift its focus from foreign enemies to working with local governments and the private sector so it can secure the border and critical infrastructure from homegrown threats.
"The growth of our expectations of domestic security, and the evolution of threats away from traditional state actors toward non-state entities -- drug cartels, organized crime, and terrorism are prominent examples -- suggest that the DHS intelligence mission should be threat agnostic," said a report by the Aspen Homeland Security Group, which is co-chaired by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
"Though the impetus for creating this new agency, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was clearly terrorism-based, the kinds of tools now deployed, from border security to cyber protection, are equally critical in fights against emerging adversaries,"' the report continued.
In prepared testimony to be given Wednesday afternoon to the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, HUMINT, Analysis, and Counterintelligence, Chertoff and two other Aspen Group members -- including Philip Mudd, a former FBI official who is now deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center -- stressed the unique role of DHS. They noted that in a time of budget constraints, DHS must focus on its "core competency while the agency sheds intelligence functions less central" to its mission.
After years of emphasis on melding the nation's intelligence apparatus under one umbrella to avoid the failures in the lead-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the experts said DHS should "avoid competition" with other intelligence agencies and instead hone in on "more specific homeward-focused areas" that are not necessarily secret.
In a statement likely to provoke raised eyebrows amid concerns about privacy and in the wake of reports that the New York Police Department spied on U.S. citizens, the Aspen Group said that "DHS should focus on products that start at lower classification levels, especially unclassified and FOUO, and that can be disseminated by means almost unknown in the federal intelligence community (phone trees, Blackberries, etc.)."
It goes on to say:
Partnerships and collaboration will be a determining factor in whether this refined mission succeeds. As threat grows more localized, the prospect that a state/local partner will generate the first lead to help understand a new threat, or even an emerging cell, will grow. And the federal government's need to train, and even staff, local agencies, such as major city police departments, will grow. Because major cities are the focus for threat, these urban areas also will become the sources of intelligence that will help understand these threats at the national level, DHS might move toward decentralizing more of its analytic workforce to partner with state/local agencies in the collection and dissemination of intelligence from the local level.
This new approach to intelligence -- serving local partners' requirements, providing intelligence in areas (such as infrastructure) not previously served by intelligence agencies, and disseminating information by new means -- reflects a transition in how Americans perceive national security.