The United States homeland security strategy is aimed at protecting and mitigating both domestic and international acts of terrorism that may take place in the nation. One of the key elements of this strategy is sufficient information sharing and flow between the federal, the state and the local law enforcement agencies. The importance of this element was accentuated by the 9/11 attacks that showed the country’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks. It emerged that for the country to protect itself from such future acts of terrorism, the government needed to facilitate the establishment of a “trusted partnerships” between all the nation’s law enforcement agencies ate the local, state and federal levels. Trusted partnerships between these agencies make the sharing of information be interconnected, integrated, and effective with the aim of enhancing national security. Several information sharing systems have been established to assist the cascading of information down from the federal level to the state and local levels. One of these systems are fusion centers (Waxman, 2009).
The cascading of information from the federal to the state and the local levels mainly takes place via strategically located fusion centers. These fusion centers as focal points within the local and the state environment for the receipt, the analysis, and sharing of security and threats related information between the local, state and federal law enforcement partners (Information Sharing Environment, 2014).
Fusion centers are usually located in major urban area and states throughout the nation (Department of Homeland Security, 2014). Federal agencies are usually at the center of the coordination of the planning as well as the deployment of adequate personnel in these centers. Technical assistance, training, exercise support, technology, amongst many other factors that are meant to support the work of fusion centers as facilitators of information flow (Department of Homeland Security, 2014)
When federal agencies receive information flow, they are obligated to disseminate it to lower level enforcement agencies so that cautionary measures can be taken (Waxman, 2009). Federal agencies have jurisdiction throughout the country but sometimes, their efficient working and functioning in certain areas might be hampered by several issues with geography being one of these. It is here that the dissemination of information to state and local agencies become useful. Through the fusion centers, the federal agencies disseminate the information to the state and local levels. The information received at fusion centers from the federal level is usually analyzed keenly. Decisions are then made regarding the specific state or local center where this information will be sent. For example, if the federal agencies have established a potential terrorist threat in a local town or city where the agency does not hold an office, it will need to connect with state and local agencies to dilute this threat. The federal agency usually sends the information to the fusion center. Here, the information is received and processed by state agencies. In many occasions, many local law enforcement and security agencies are under the mandate of state agencies. After information from the federal level is processed at the state level, this information is then passed on to the local level. For example, in regards to the potential terrorist threat, the local police department is informed and is given the necessary guidelines on how to go about the issue. Agencies at the federal level are well equipped with sufficient resources and know-how and in addition to security-related information, the agencies also pass forward guidelines on how to act in relation to issues of mitigating and diluting terrorist threats (Department of Homeland Security, 2014). Therefore, for example, a local police agency might raid a potential terrorist threat center while being guided by an agency such as the Federal Bureau of Information.
Therefore, as seen, the information flow from federal levels cascades down to the state level and local level through fusion centers. This is indeed what leads to the creation of an “information sharing center”. Upon receipt of information from the federal government or federal law enforcement and security agencies, the information is not just disseminated to the state and locally concerned agencies or bodies (Information Sharing Environment, 2014). As mentioned earlier, this information is usually analyzed. It is however wise to take note that the analysis of information takes place in the context of the local environment. This analysis enables the establishment of whether the information in question is relevant to the various local and state levels. This is because not all information from the federal level is explicitly clear. For instance, the federal government might receive information about an impending threat but may not pinpoint the exact location of the threat. The federal government then sends the information to various fusion centers across the country (Information Sharing Environment, 2014). It is up to the analysts of these fusion centers to analyze the information in the context of the state and the local regions and find its relevance (Waxman, 2009). If the information is found to be relevant in any particular manner, then appropriate actions can be taken. This is why fusion centers are so important. They ensure that information from federal level is not just passed to state and local levels and causes officers at these levels to go on a wild goose hung when the information may not be relevant to their context.
Information is not just one way; that is, the information is not just disseminated from the federal to the local level. Information from the local and the state regions is also passed on to the federal level mainly via the same fusion centers.
Collaboration, information sharing and constant communication between the federal, state, and local levels have greatly aided the nation in its fight against security threats and terrorism. Before events such as the 9/11, there was inefficient information sharing and perhaps even some bit of animosity between the three levels of law enforcement and security, that is, local, state and federal (Waxman, 2009). However, since that time, information sharing and communication have been beefed up., However, there needs to be even more communication. Security threats will forever be an issue in the nation and therefore, there needs to be even more communication between the concerned agencies to ensure that any emerging or potential threats is disseminated to the various relevant levels so that cautionary measures can be immediately. It is crucial that there are constant communication forums between the three levels of law enforcement on a regular basis to define elements of communication and pave way for even more communication. In fact, there should be no limits to the communication between these levels. Security is an issue of concern for the whole nation, and any emerging issue should be adequately communicated with immediate effect without any kind of holding back, restriction or limitation. Doing this will enable the security to be at an all-time high.
There are some who however some who may argue that classified information being held by the federal government should not be passed down to local and state agencies. This is because releasing the information to other parties might put the country’s security in jeopardy. In regards to this, there should be federal review of what exactly constitutes “classified information”. If the information concerns national security and if by involving state and local agencies, the security might be enhanced, then by all mean this information should be passed down to the relevant local and state agencies so that they can on their part act appropriately (Waxman, 2009).
Another critical issue is the amount of information released to the public by the state and local levels. Current data shows that the local and state agencies are very reserved when it comes to releasing the information to the public. In fact, most of the local and state agencies work behind the scenes in relation to information. This is perhaps why some actions of these agencies are met with public outcry because the public is usually unaware and is kept in the dark. In fact, the only information that is passed to the public is when a security threat is, for example, detected very late, and the public are, for instance, told to shun particular areas (Waugh, 2013). In addition, it is very rare to find information about suspects of terrorism or security threats being disseminated to the public unless the law agencies have been unable to capture such suspects manually and therefore require the input of the public.
The media also come into question sometimes. Involving the media can be very beneficial because the information is able to reach a lot of people who can then act on it immediately, for instance, in relation to wanted persons. However, utilization of the media can also be disadvantageous as information may for example make terrorist aware that their plans have been found out and may therefore cut them back for some time as they wait for things to cool down. In addition, terrorists might purposely mislead the media or give inaccurate information to give them leeway to strike when all attention is on the inaccurate information given (Waugh, 2013).
In conclusion, it is clear that one of the key elements of the national security strategy is sufficient information sharing and flow between the federal, the state and the local law enforcement agencies. Fusion centers have enabled this to take place but in the future, even more information sharing and communication is required in order to respond to new and emerging threats. There should also be more involvement of the public in matters related to security because they are ones who are, in fact, worse affected by insecurity or acts of terrorism.
Information Sharing Environment (ISE). (2014). National Network of State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers. Retrieved November 10, 2014, from http://www.ise.gov/national-network-state-and-major-urban-area-fusion-centers
Waugh Jr, W. L. (2003). Terrorism, homeland security and the national emergency management network. Public Organization Review, 3(4), 373-385.
Waxman, M. C. (2009). Police and national security: American local law enforcement and counterterrorism after 9/11. Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 3, 377.