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Homeland Security Goes Local

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
February 26, 2007

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During his tenure, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff cast homeland security as primarily a state-level function, with the federal government offering guidance and assistance. “State and local governments are the primary first responders in a disaster,” Chertoff told the National Hurricane Conference last year. Some states have embraced this role; a few even established state-level homeland security departments before the federal government did. For the most part, states have focused on emergency response, reevaluating their readiness to respond to crises. But the post-9/11 era security environment presents new challenges, and many state officials are placing new emphasis on intelligence operations.

In an annual survey (PDF), the National Governors Association asks state homeland security directors to describe the challenges they face and the policies they endorse. Topping the list of priorities is a communications system that would allow various state and federal agencies to communicate directly in an emergency. This was among the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and is an aim of recent congressional legislation. It remains unclear if, or when, these communications systems will be implemented. Heritage Foundation analyst James Carafano suggests a proposed new grant to fund such systems will only encourage states to “view security grants as pork-barrel handouts.”

Second on the list of priorities is developing “fusion centers,” state-level intelligence hubs that pool information from state and federal agencies to assist in both criminal and counterterrorism investigations. As this new Backgrounder explains, fusion centers represent an important development in burgeoning state-level intelligence programs.

For years, intelligence collection and analysis has been the purview of the federal government, but state and local law enforcement authorities increasingly feel the need to bolster their own intelligence networks. As this Backgrounder explains, New York City created an intelligence network so extensive it even has officers stationed overseas. Of course, few local governments can afford such a program, but that hasn't stopped some states from changing their approach to police work, adopting a technique known as “intelligence-led policing” (PDF). This trend has alarmed civil libertarians; in an amicus brief (PDF) to the 2004 Supreme Court case Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court, the Electronic Privacy Information Center cautioned that growing tomes of information on innocent citizens pave the way for rights violations.

This is not the first time that the U.S. government has asked localities to answer the call of national security. At the start of the Cold War, President Truman established the Federal Civil Defense Administration, which encouraged individuals and local governments to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Federal civil defense funding tapered off in the 1960s, though some states, local jurisdictions, and private organizations keep such efforts alive.

During that era, however, national programs also focused on security-related infrastructure projects, such as the National Defense Highway System (GlobalSecurity.org). Today that infrastructure has become old and brittle, warns CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Flynn in this podcast, leaving Americans vulnerable to catastrophic disasters. With the federal government under funding large-scale projects crucial to disaster prevention, Flynn says state and local authorities can do little to shore up this vulnerability.

CFR State and Local Officials Bulletin | List of Fusion Centers by State (PDF)

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Backgrounder

Fusion Centers

Author: Eben Kaplan

Backgrounder: State and local governments are ramping up their own intelligence efforts, using fusion centers to funnel information.