Inside DHS’ Intelligence Mission

The Homeland

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) was borne from the idea that there were real gaps in seeing threat patterns inside the United States, and that the focused law enforcement work of the FBI and others was coming up short on traditional strategic trend analysis at home.  The FBI took obvious umbrage at this assertion, but the decision was made to stand up a new, formal member of the National Intelligence Program.

DHS I&A was charged with looking inside the United States, including at U.S. Persons information, the activities of groups and movements in the U.S. potentially at risk for radicalization and violence, and to paint an intelligence threat and analysis picture of the homeland.

DHS I&A is a large directorate led by a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary.  Its mandate includes overseeing the federal homeland security intelligence enterprise, managing information sharing policy for the Department, serving as the homeland security intelligence requirements representative to the larger IC, and building partnerships with nation-wide State Fusion Centers.

Fourteen years in, and six Senate-confirmed Under Secretaries later, I&A is still finding its way, both internally in the Department and as a truly unique member of the national intelligence community.  I was fortunate enough to serve as an I&A Deputy Under Secretary from 2009 – 2011, overseeing strategic planning, budgeting and programming, information sharing and intelligence policy for the Office.

I&As successes are real and significant, ranging from the creation of a first-ever requirements process for the homeland intelligence enterprise, driving the establishment of State-owned fusion centers and connecting them with the federal government via the relatively new Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), negotiating a host of information sharing agreements with the National Counterterrorism Center and others, and serving as the DHS leadership hub for ingesting, producing and disseminating finished intelligence.

But I&A remains an incomplete product.  It has yet to settle on an enduring analytic focus: whether it should be an operational enabler for DHS components or an analytic hub for strategic analysis, and how it’s statutes and authorities – especially around the use of U.S. Persons information, for homeland-centric products relates to the larger intelligence community.  I&A also is still evolving in how it supports and advocates for non-federal members of the homeland security enterprise at state, local, and private sector stake-holder levels, as well as its often fraught relationship with the FBI.

Let’s start with the hard, internal challenges still unresolved.

I&A has a large workforce.  Much larger than some prominent members of the traditional intelligence community.  Its largeness could be a strength, but it often means it has too many people getting in the way of building a focused, highly-trained workforce that stays long-term. Turnover of staff is a big issue for I&A.

Second, and more fundamental, is I&A’s ever-changing sense of self.  Is it a headquarters element meant to manage strategic requirements, resources and broad analysis, like DIA, or is it a support element for DHS operating components in need of tactical information?  Most DHS operating components have their own intelligence units that are the backbone of their intelligence-driven operations.  TSA has its own intelligence unit.  CBP has its own intelligence unit.  ICE has its own intelligence unit.  The U.S. Coast Guard has its own intelligence unit.  The Secret Service has its own intelligence unit.  And the National Protection and Programs Directorate that leads cyber and critical infrastructure resiliency for the Department has its own intelligence unit.  I&A has a mixed record providing value-add to the operating components.

Still, I&A is a vital advocate for information sharing with non-federal members of the homeland security enterprise.  It is the nation’s leading advocate for more federal intelligence products written at low or unclassified levels that can be shared with state, local and private sector law enforcement and other homeland security providers.  Non-federal members of the homeland security enterprise are the front line in identifying threats so I&A’s role here is essential.  I&A also is the information sharing integrator for the Department, a challenging endeavor former I&A Under Secretary Frank Taylor discussed in our first Homeland Security Column on August 8, 2018.

I&A has gone through several iterations of analytic focus.  This has included focus on important – but controversial topics – like domestic hate groups and white supremacists.  At times, I&A has focused on analysis of trans-national terrorist organizations, reasonably arguing that they exist abroad and threaten us at home.  But this work has proven to be redundant of the highly focused efforts of other organizations like FBI and NCTC.  I&A has invested in cyber threat analysis, which also is reasonable, as it is impossible to separate how those committed to violence from their essential enabling (and radicalizing) tools.   But I&A has learned that it was not able to compete for talent and capacity with the NSA, the ODNI’s Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), or DHS’s own National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) run by the NPPD Directorate.

There are promising, enduring areas where I&A is building nation-leading analytic capacity.  Three areas jump out.  Borders, domestic radicalization, and transnational crime.  Full spectrum analysis of these areas requires comfort and alacrity in utilizing U.S. Persons information and activities inside the United States.  CIA, DIA, NSA appropriately do not do this.  FBI can and does have the domestic writ, but it remains operational and case-centric.  I&A is unique in that it does not have a vested interest in operational outcomes, so it should play the role as a less-biased observer and predictor of trends at home.

When I was at the Pentagon managing DoD policy for the 2014 Central American migration crisis, we struggled to get an accurate understanding of why numbers were spiking, especially for unaccompanied minors, what role homeland facilitators were playing, and who was feeding the false narrative that 2014 was the year to cross the border. The foreign intelligence community did not feel comfortable marrying together reporting from Central America with that of U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement, community action groups and others.  I&A was the key arm of the intelligence community in providing the intelligence picture for us policymakers.  I&A does not have an operational vested interest in particular outcomes, unlike the very large numbers of federal entities operating along our southern border that understandably pine for success.

I&A may prove to be a central actor in analyzing the impact of foreign information operations against our democratic institutions.  This is burgeoning and should be a priority mission given I&A’s comfort-level working domestically in a non-law enforcement capacity.

DHS I&A has an important mission.  Its role to provide a comprehensive intelligence picture to DHS leadership, advocating for homeland requirements to the larger intelligence community, integrating information sharing and data analysis across DHS, partnering with non-federal members of the homeland security enterprise, and producing strategic intelligence in focused areas is true value add.  I&A has real areas for improvement, but its successes make us safer and more resilient.


The Homeland

3 Responses

  1. Ed israel says:

    This article does not address privacy concerns. The Public is seeing a real diminishment of its right to privacy. It would help if Intelligence agencies would define where our privacy extends.

  2. Cal Lash says:

    The creation of DHS was a huge mistake.
    Cal Lash, a 78 year old Arizona Republican and retired cop.

  3. Dr. Avner Barnea says:

    It is not clear to me – as an expert and scholar on counter intelligence – how the cooperation between the I&A and the FBI is actually working. Has this issue was addressed properly? And also who is responsible for supervising this activity to make sure it is operating proportionally and not violating freedom and privacy by large?

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