The findings in The 9/11 Commission Report and the Markle Foundation report1 clearly demonstrated the need for a nationwide capacity to share information that could detect, prevent, or deter a terrorist attack. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 and the 2007 National Strategy for Information Sharing indicate both legislative and executive intent to establish locally controlled distributed information systems wherein potential terrorism-related information could be contributed by the 18,000 state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) law enforcement agencies for analysis to determine whether there are emerging patterns or trends. Following this guidance, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) was developed.
The NSI is a partnership among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement that establishes a national capacity for gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing SAR information—also referred to as the SAR process—in a manner that rigorously protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. The ISE-SAR Functional Standard v. 1.5.5 defines suspicious activity as “observed behavior reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.” This definition was developed after critical input from several privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The SAR process is critical to sharing information about suspicious activity with a potential nexus to terrorism, which can help prevent terrorist attacks and other related criminal activity from occurring. In developing the standards and processes, the NSI leveraged the guidance and expertise provided by the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global), which serves as a Federal Advisory Committee and advises the U.S. Attorney General on justice information sharing and integration initiatives. This includes leveraging the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), which allows the interoperability and seamless exchange of information.
The NSI is a collaborative effort among SLTT and federal agencies, led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in coordination with the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE), Global, and the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council (CICC). Support of the Nationwide SAR Initiative (NSI) efforts has been publicly stated by major law enforcement associations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), the Major County Sheriffs’ Association (MCSA), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA).
On October 1, 2013, DHS and the FBI, in coordination with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), directed the nationwide transition of the NSI Shared Space to a new technology platform in support of the seamless sharing of SARs. Consequently, DHS and the FBI assumed responsibility for the NSI. Training, technical assistance, and outreach are now the responsibility of DHS, while the FBI is responsible for NSI technology. The core mission of the NSI is to assist agencies with adopting compatible processes, policies, and standards that foster broader sharing of SARs, while ensuring that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected. Primary functions of the NSI executive agent include advocating on behalf of the initiative, providing guidance to participants at all levels, and coordinating various efforts within the NSI. Given the criticality of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties issues, the NSI works collaboratively with and is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Privacy and Civil Liberties Office.
The Information Sharing and Access Interagency Policy Committee (ISA IPC) is the federal interagency forum overseeing the planning and implementation of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). The Fusion Center and Suspicious Activity Reporting Sub-Committee of the ISA IPC focuses on coordinating federal support to fusion centers and the NSI by providing the guidance and standards necessary to support interconnectivity to help ensure information sharing between and among fusion centers and at all levels of government. The sub-committee is cochaired by DHS and the FBI and includes members from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Joint Staff, DOJ, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the PM-ISE, the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The chair of the CICC and the chair of the Regional Information Sharing Systems® National Policy Group also serve in advisory capacities. In this capacity, they represent SLTT law enforcement and homeland security perspectives and provide guidance to the sub-committee.
Background of the NSI Governance
On December 17, 2009, DOJ was named the executive agent to establish and operate the Program Management Office (PMO) for the NSI. Then in March 2010, DOJ established the NSI PMO within BJA to support nationwide implementation of the SAR process. BJA served as the executive agent of the NSI until the nationwide transition on October 1, 2013, as detailed above.
Implementation of the NSI
The NSI has established standardized processes and policies that provide the capability for SLTT and federal law enforcement to share timely, relevant SAR information that has been determined to have a potential nexus to terrorism, while working to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected. The National Network of Fusion Centers is a critical part of this effort.
National Network of Fusion Centers
State and major urban area fusion centers (fusion centers) serve as primary focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among SLTT and federal partners. Located across the country, fusion centers are uniquely situated to empower frontline law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency response, public health, critical infrastructure/key resources (CIKR) owners and operators, and private sector security personnel to lawfully gather and share threat-related information. They provide interdisciplinary expertise and situational awareness to inform decision making at all levels of government. Fusion centers conduct analysis and facilitate information sharing, assisting law enforcement and homeland security partners in preventing, protecting against, and responding to crime and terrorism. Fusion centers are owned and operated by state and local entities with support from federal partners in the form of deployed personnel, training, technical assistance, exercise support, security clearances, connectivity to federal systems, technology, and grant funding.
The NSI closely coordinates with the FBI and the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) to ensure that technical, policy, and training requirements are met by fusion centers. For more information regarding fusion centers, please visit the following:
1 Markle Foundation Task Force Report, “Creating a Trusted Information Network for Homeland Security” (Markle Foundation, 2003).