FBI Director Focuses on Intelligence Sharing at IACP Conference

Field intelligence groups, fusion centers, PinPoint, CompStat and the Multiple Visual Initiative are tools to leverage intelligence.

by / November 13, 2008

Earlier this week at the IACP Conference in San Diego, FBI Director, Robert S. Mueller III, highlighted the need for all levels of government to share intelligence to accomplish their law enforcement and counterterrorism missions.

Mueller, in his prepared remarks, said the only way for the law enforcement community to accomplish each of its missions is by using intelligence and technology and "determining what we know, what we don't know and finding ways to fill the gaps."

Mueller recalled a quote by Mark Twain who said "it is wiser to find out than suppose" to emphasize the value of intelligence to addressing the convergent threats of crime and terrorism, where local gangs and international cartels can cooperate.

Mueller emphasized the importance of law enforcement agencies knowing their domain. This means "understanding every inch of a given community -- its geography, its populations, its economy and its vulnerabilities," he said.

He offered San Diego as an example of a city where multiple law enforcement missions -- including combating crime, border security and counterterrorism -- converge. Not only is San Diego a hub of biotechnology, telecommunications and software engineering, but it has a major port and many military installations. It is also home to national sports teams and several colleges and universities, not to mention the nearby border the state shares with Mexico.

While this makes for a vibrant community, it also provides multiple high-value terrorist targets and the cross-border traffic presents a challenge to law enforcement apprehending criminals that may be plotting or financing acts of terrorism. He noted that two of the hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks lived in San Diego as they prepared for the attacks.

One of the most important lessons the FBI learned from the September 11th attacks, Mueller said, is the need for better collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence. To that end, the FBI built a framework to manage intelligence. "We created Field Intelligence Groups in each of our field offices. We improved both the quantity and quality of our intelligence reports. We upgraded our technology and expanded our task forces to make sure our partners had access to our intelligence," Mueller said.

And while these efforts were directed at the FBI's mission of preventing terrorism, Mueller noted they can be of benefit to state and local law enforcement in keeping the nation's communities safe. "Every day we are leveraging these tools to fight crime together," he said.

The bureau is using mapping technology, joint task forces and CompStat to work much more cooperatively with local law enforcement agencies. The FBI's implementation of mapping technology, which it has piloted in many cities, is known as Project PinPoint. It allows the bureau to combine and plot crime data from multiple agencies -- from shootings to sources and from outstanding warrants to open investigations.

Mueller said the promise of geospatially plotted data is that "any crime data can be compared to any other investigative data set. And it is when we combine the FBI's data with your data that we can view intelligence in a whole new light. It is one thing to suppose there might be a connection between firearms seizures, narcotics arrests and shootings in a certain quadrant of your city," he said. "It is another thing to find out by seeing the connections on a computer screen."

"For once, it was just like on Law & Order," Mueller said, recalling the investigation of the shooting death of a nine-year-old boy in Philadelphia. In 2005,

Wander de Jesus sat in a minivan in North Philadelphia, waiting for his father to close his corner store. Suddenly, a bullet flew through the windshield and struck Wander in the chest, killing him instantly. Everyone in the neighborhood was afraid to talk, he recalled.

So the FBI and the Philadelphia police plotted open arrest warrants in the area of the shooting on a map. Investigators went out as a team to conduct interviews in the hopes of finding someone with information and they found what they were looking for in the second house they visited, Mueller said. "The resident told them who and where the shooter was, and gave our team the location of the gun. We executed search warrants together and the case was solved within eight hours," he recalled.

Another technology initiative under development is the Multiple Visual Initiative (MVI), which is similar to the geospatial data-sharing tool Virtual Alabama, John Hoyt, Branch Chief with the Command, Control and Interoperability Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, said. This project tackles the problem of working across agencies to get a common operating picture and keep communities safe. But MVI allows partners to see data from a particular agency without giving their data away.

Something else MVI allows is threat probability distribution mapping populated with data from spreadsheets and text documents for counter-gang operations and infrastructure protection operations. A few elements to work on for the future of this system, Hoyt said, are the use of digital rights management to control access to this controlled unclassified information, the standardization of symbols used on maps for agencies that view the maps and greater use of anonymized data to protect citizen privacy and safety.

Another tool the bureau uses to connect pieces of otherwise unrelated pieces of intelligence is a variation of CompStat.

Chicago law enforcement estimates there are at least 60,000 gang members in the community and hundreds of homicides, the majority of which are gang-related, Mueller noted. This has necessitated the FBI adjust its traditional top-down approach to dismantling gangs to going after individual gang members to stem the violence at the street level with the addition of a third gang squad.

"This squad works with state and local law enforcement to fast-track those who are directly responsible for the most violence on the streets," Mueller explained. "Each of these cases is driven by intelligence. Short-term investigations turn up intelligence that informs our long-term investigations and vice versa."

By way of example, Mueller said gathered intelligence indicates MS-13 doesn't have much of a presence in Chicago. That's good news, he said, "but we cannot be satisfied until we understand why that is, where they are instead and where the threat might next emerge."

That's why the FBI has set up a series of intelligence tripwires with state and local police agencies including typical MS-13 tattoos and common modus operandi. State and local police would be the first to see signs of an MS-13 presence, Mueller said. "If they see any red flags, they can alert us, and together we can address the threat before it has a chance to take root."

The FBI is now using a process similar to CompStat to map criminal threats across regions throughout the country. "If we have a clear picture of one gang's activities here in San Diego, but little reporting on another gang, does that mean they are less active? Or does it mean that we need better coverage to fill the intelligence gap?" Muller said.

Fusing it Together
Disseminating the intelligence gleaned from geospatially represented relationships and statistics falls to state and local fusion centers.

Fusion centers grew out of failure to connect the dots that would have led to the apprehension of the terrorists behind the September 11, 2001 attacks before they caused any damage. These fusion centers are populated with highly trained intelligence officers who share information with state, local and federal colleagues over a secure network.

Chet Lunner, Deputy Undersecretary for Field Operations at the Intelligence and Analysis office of the DHS, speaking at the TCIP 2008 conference said the effort with fusion centers is to bring police, fire, hospitals, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security Information and Analysis together.

The federal government provides support and training to state and local government and provides a place to bring the players together. Some of the things being worked on at the federal level include the National Criminal Information Sharing Plan, fusion center guidelines, implementation guidelines for an information sharing environment and developing the National Intelligence Resource Center which is accessible through the FBI's Law Enforcement Online portal and other access points.

Some of the technology projects being worked on include expanding the regional information sharing systems and setting up a single-sign on for existing resources.

Christopher Traver, Senior Policy Advisor with the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) said there should be a minimum standard of criminal intelligence training that state and local law enforcement should be required to have, and that executives should have the same training as the officers who work with the intel. In addition, state and local law enforcement officers should have anti-terror training and foreign intelligence training should be available online.

Traver said BJA is working with the corrections technology associations to bring corrections and law enforcement together.

Traver also mentioned the National Suspicious Activity Report Initiative Report and said that while local law enforcement has been filing these reports forever, this information has yet to be disseminated to different fusion centers. A major obstacle to that sharing, Traver said, is that the generators of the info have to be confident their data is cataloged and safe. The current challenge is that multiple agencies are creating redundant systems with separate sign-ons. These should be consolidated and identity management should be put in place to determine who is accessing the system, what clearance do they have and what is their job function. These measures will help protect the integrity of the data, Traver said.

That's why a project under development uses a secure socket layer connection and a virtual private network to connect to a shared service. Phase one of the development efforts which include Florida, New York and Virginia are going well. The next phase should begin soon, he said.

So the sharing mechanisms are going into place, but how do you get that information to the street? Hoyt highlighted the use of smart phones to facilitate exchange of intelligence between the officers on the street and federal authorities. The Critical Infrastructure Inspection Management System in Maryland uses tablet PCs and geospatially represented data to monitor critical infrastructure security which saves the state $250,000 annually in operating costs, Hoygt said.

In wrapping up his remarks at the conference of police chiefs, Mueller invoked Al Paccino's character in the movie Any Given Sunday, where Paccino plays a football coach. Football, Paccino says, is a "game of inches" where "the margin of error is so half step too early or too late and you don't quite make it."

Paccino goes on to say "the inches we need are everywhere around us."

"Protecting our country is also a game of inches," Mueller observed, "Yet the intelligence we need is everywhere around us. When we all bring some pieces of the puzzle to the table, we can put the picture together much faster," he said.