[lg policy] Effective Counterterrorism: State and Local Capabilities Trump Federal Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jun 4 17:06:16 UTC 2009

Effective Counterterrorism: State and Local Capabilities Trump Federal Policy

by Matt A. Mayer
Center for Data Analysis Report #09-02

Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and then
Hurricane Katrina, Americans generally assumed that authorities in
Washington, D.C., would shoulder the primary responsibility for
securing the safety of the American homeland. This assumption is
understandable given that over the past half-century the federal
government has amassed far more authority than was ever envi­sioned in
the U.S. Constitution. Despite a rich his­tory of civilian defense in
which states and localities have taken responsibility for their own
affairs, the U.S. government is federalizing more and more of the
homeland security mission.

Not only is this approach constitutionally incor­rect, but the states
themselves could do the job bet­ter. Washington's one-size-fits-all
solutions rarely succeed. The country's needs are too diverse, federal
resources are physically too far from any one loca­tion to secure
rapid responses, and federal decision-making is notoriously inept.

The Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security and the States Project
seeks to place responsibility where it should be according to the
Constitution and where the most efficient, effective leadership
resides. This project focuses on four areas where state and local
leadership is preferable to federal oversight: preparedness for and
resiliency against terrorist attacks and natural disasters, disaster
response, interior enforcement of laws against ille­gal immigration,
and counterterrorism. The project involves four key phases:

Research and outreach to state and local asso­ciations in Washington, D.C.;
State and local outreach using 10 regional roundtables;
Drafting, circulating for review and comment, and finalizing a suite
of solutions across the four areas of focus for states and localities
to enact or adopt; and
Launching an adoption campaign.
As part of the research process, we have gathered the homeland
security budget data for specific states, cities, and counties;
analyzed disaster re­sponse activities at the federal level
historically; compiled initiatives and legislative actions to com­bat
illegal immigration; and conducted a survey of state and local
counterterrorism capabilities. (See Appendix A.)

State and Local Law Enforcement Must Lead

As The Heritage Foundation's previous report on state and local
homeland security budgets viv­idly demonstrated, state and local
resources far exceed federal resources.[1] Specifically, in addition
to appropriating more money every year to domestic law enforcement
efforts, states and localities employ over 1.1 million officers,
com­pared to the roughly 25,000 agents working for the Federal Bureau
of Investigation and Immigra­tion and Customs Enforcement. This
imbalance makes sense given the chronic public safety issues in
American cities and states.

Constitutionally, states and localities are the proper leads on
domestic security issues. As Alex­ander Hamilton noted in The
Federalist No. 17, "There is one transcendent advantage belonging to
the province of the State governments, which alone suffices to place
the matter in a clear and satisfactory light--I mean the ordinary
administration of crimi­nal and civil justice."[2]

But the importance of a state and local lead on domestic
counterterrorism goes beyond money, per­sonnel, and even
constitutional appropriateness. As the counterterrorism survey
reveals, the vast major­ity of state and local law enforcement
agencies use one or more of the three primary policing techniques--
community policing, intelligence-led policing, and problem-oriented
policing--to secure their jurisdic­tions. These techniques, first
widely deployed by then-New York City Transit Authority Chief William
Bratton in 1990, have resulted in significant reduc­tions in crime all
across the United States.

Unlike federal agents who really enter communi­ties only as part of
active investigations, state and local law enforcement personnel see
it as a source of success to become active parts of their commu­nity.
Whether it is by walking an assigned beat or patrolling sections of a
city by car, local law enforcement officers come to know their
commu­nities inside and out. This familiarity results in two critical

Community members trust them and share key information about what is
going on in the area, and
Law enforcement personnel develop a gut instinct that allows them to
sense when some­one or something just is not right.
As the International Association of Chiefs of Police has noted, "Over
the past decade, simulta­neous to federally led initiatives to improve
intelli­gence gathering, thousands of community policing officers have
been building close and personal rela­tionships with the citizens they
serve." These activ­ities provide them "immediate and unfettered
access to local, neighborhood information as it develops...[where the
people] provide them with new information."[3]

In addition to their community knowledge, state and local governments
house roughly 90 percent of America's prison population. Given the
increasing concern that some prison inmates are susceptible to
radicalization, the work being done in U.S. jails and prisons to
monitor, detect, and thwart terrorist activities must remain closely
connected to the same activities occurring in our communities,
espe­cially as potentially radicalized prisoners are paroled. This
linkage becomes even more impor­tant as gang and drug cartels consider
connecting with terrorist groups.

This investment in money, people, policing tech­niques, and
communities gives America its best chance to detect and prevent a
terrorist attack once the terrorists have entered the country or when
homegrown radicals emerge. To be successful, state and local law
enforcement must have the ability to do its job.

Developing State and Local Capabilities

As detailed in the Target Capabilities List (TCL) developed by the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in close partnership with
state and local partners, there are five critical prevention
capabilities that states and localities should possess to deal with
the threat from terrorists:

Information-gathering and recognition of indicators and warnings;
Intelligence analysis and production;
Intelligence and information-sharing and dissemination;
Counterterrorism investigation and law enforce­ment; and
Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE)
threat detection.
Each capability has specific outcomes, objectives, preparedness
measures, performance measures, resource elements, planning
assumptions, and tar­get-capability preparedness levels. The TCL
capa­bilities assume a requisite level of staffing to perform the
tasks within each capability.[4] (For details on each of the five TCL
capabilities, see Table 1.)

The 9/11 Commission's conclusions pertaining to the staffing
capabilities needed by the FBI are con­sistent with the TCL personnel
requirements and apply with equal force to state and local
counterter­rorism units. Specifically, units should possess "agents,
analysts, linguists, and surveillance special­ists who are recruited,
and retained to ensure the development of an institutional culture
imbued with a deep expertise in intelligence and national
security."[5] Ideally, agencies will possess distinct counterterrorism
units with dedicated full-time officers and a leadership structure
that reports directly to the head of the agency.

Agencies should ensure that being part of the counterterrorism units
provides career advance­ment for their personnel so that they can
attract and retain officers. To do this, they "should fully imple­ment
a recruiting, hiring, and selection process for agents and analysts
that enhances [their] ability to target and attract individuals with
educational and professional backgrounds in intelligence,
interna­tional relations, language, technology, and other rel­evant

Although many small to medium-size cities may not need the full gamut
of counterterrorism capabil­ities, many higher-risk jurisdictions,
given al-Qaeda's global history of launching attacks in large urban
centers, should have them. This requires city and county leaders to
restructure their budgets to ensure that the requisite level of
funding goes to acquiring, creating, and maintaining vibrant
coun­terterrorism capabilities. DHS grant funding can then be used to
supplement the state and local bud­gets to acquire the necessary TCL

Regional Counterterrorism Today

Due to the sensitivity of publicizing existing capabilities of
specific states, cities, and counties, the Heritage survey asked
respondents to identify themselves by Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) region and population. Heritage sent the
counterterrorism survey to the principal state and local law
enforcement officials (state superintendent or secretary, chief of
police, and sheriff) in 129 jurisdictions across America. The list
represented 28 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 54
cities and 46 counties. The cities and counties are jurisdictions that
DHS has made eligi­ble for the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI)
grant program. (For the list of jurisdictions, see Appendix B.)

Heritage received responses from 64 of the 129 jurisdictions. The 64
responses cover nine of the 10 FEMA regions. Heritage did not receive
any responses from Region VIII (in Denver, Colorado) and received only
one response from Region VII (in Kansas City, Missouri). Those two
regions, however, have only eight survey recipients because of their
lack of higher-risk urban areas (only four UASI jurisdictions across
the 10-state area).

Critically, Heritage did receive responses from more than half of the
recipients in four regions: II, IV, IX, and X. These four regions
contain almost half of the higher-risk urban areas that received UASI
funds in fiscal year 2008, including Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay
Area, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Miami, New York City-Northern New
Jersey, and Seattle. (For the distribution of recipients and responses
by region, see Table 2.)

Based on the survey responses, it is clear that much work remains to
be done to ensure that the higher-risk states and localities possess
the counter­terrorism capabilities highlighted in the TCL that are
necessary to keep their citizens safe from another terrorist attack.

Specifically, of the 64 jurisdictions, only 42 pos­sess
counterterrorism units. Of those units, only 20 were deemed critical
enough to have leadership that reported directly to the head of the
agency. Staffing levels also were weak. Even though six jurisdictions
had 31 or more "full-time officers [who] work on terrorism issues," 12
had no full-time officers, and another 30 had only one to five
full-time officers.

In terms of more specialized staffing, only three jurisdictions had 21
or more full-time intelligence analysts. Twenty jurisdictions did not
have any full-time intelligence analysts, and 27 had between one and
five intelligence analysts, which together repre­sented 73 percent of
the jurisdictions. Jurisdictions with full-time linguists were even
worse: Only two jurisdictions had 21 or more full-time linguists, and
one had between 11 and 20 full-time linguists. A total of 52
jurisdictions lacked a full-time linguist.

Despite the lack of full-time linguists, many juris­dictions had some
ability to translate and communi­cate in one of 16 different
languages. Not surprisingly, the language that most jurisdictions
could handle was Spanish (36). The second language was Arabic (24),
followed by Russian (23), Korean (17), and Farsi (14). Other languages
were Portuguese (12), Mandarin (11), Cantonese (10), Hindi (8), Urdu
(7), Pashto (6), Punjabi (5), Bahasa Indonesian (4), Somali (4),
Turkish (4), and Bangla (3).

To close the gaps in intelligence and linguistics, states and
localities need to partner with higher-education institutions to
develop analytic and lan­guage programs.

The jurisdiction with the most capabilities had a counterterrorism
unit with 31 full-time officers, 21 intelligence analysts, and 21
linguists; could trans­late and communicate in all 16 languages, and
belonged to a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The jurisdiction with
the least capabilities had no counterterrorism unit, no intelligence
analysts, and no linguists; could not translate or communicate in any
of the 16 languages; and did not belong to either a JTTF or a fusion

Finally, when it comes to the continued inter­agency fight between DHS
and the U.S. Department of Justice over which agency is the primary
federal partner for state and local law enforcement on infor­mation-
and intelligence-sharing, the Justice Department has far more
connections to the nation's major law enforcement entities.
Specifically, almost every one of the major law enforcement
jurisdic­tions that responded to the survey (61) belonged to a JTTF,
while only 43 jurisdictions participated in or had a fusion or data
center. Because state and local law enforcement agencies already face
budget con­straints and very limited resources, the demands-- in many
cases redundant--by DHS and the Justice Department can overwhelm them.

What Should Be Done

Washington needs to end the dual-headed fed­eral agency fight over
which entity should be the primary federal partner of state and local
law enforcement. Rather, the federal government needs to present a
federal enterprise solution to state and local governments. The bottom
line is that too many of the United States' higher-risk jurisdictions
lack the requisite level of counterterrorism capabilities to engage in
effective prevention activities. This defi­ciency must end.

First, state and local political leaders must stop underfunding their
law enforcement agencies and thereby preventing those agencies from
building robust counterterrorism programs. These elected officials
must also stop cutting law enforcement budgets during budget crises.
With the explosion of state and local budgets unrelated to public
safety over the past decade, surely there are other agen­cies that
could be downsized and still maintain minimum functionality. The
nation's security must come first.

Second, states and localities should reorganize their law enforcement
agencies in accordance with the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. To
attract top candidates, law enforcement agencies must make clear that
a career in counterterrorism has the same upward mobility as a career
in more tradi­tional units. Candidates also need to know that their
jobs will be secure when money gets tight.

Third, there must be a realistic assessment of risk. Are there really
60 urban areas that can be classified as "high risk," or did DHS
simply make a political decision when it enlarged the number of fully
eligi­ble urban areas from 35 to 60 last year? Although the DHS risk
formula is classified, those who have seen it know that the curve on
the chart begins to flatline once the line hits the 30th urban area.
By extending eligibility to 60 urban areas, DHS is merely diluting the
finite federal funds that truly at-risk urban areas need to supplement
their local budgets, thereby delaying the implementation of critical
counterterrorism capabilities. Since DHS has failed to make the tough
choices, Congress must expressly limit the number of urban areas that
are eligible for the UASI grant program to 35 or fewer.

In the eight years since the 9/11 attacks, too much of the debate
about how to fix domestic intel­ligence deficiencies has been focused
on the federal aspect. Whether the debate centered on the creation of
the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) or the role of the Director
of National Intelligence, there was too little serious discussion of
the role of states and localities. Too often, Washington viewed states
and localities as mere sources for data.

Rather than spending yet more years talking about the need for state
and local "information-sharing," which really just means sending
informa­tion to the federal government, the United States should first
properly apportion the roles and responsibilities between the federal
government and states and localities based on the respective resources
that each possesses (money, people, and experience). Then the federal
government should help states and localities, especially the
higher-risk jurisdictions, to fill gaps in their counterterrorism

Finally, the federal government should get out of the way of state and
local law enforcement agencies so that they can do the job they have
done since the founding of our country: protect us. Thankfully, it is
not too late to do these things so that we increase the odds of
preventing a terrorist attack on Ameri­can soil.

Matt A. Mayer is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation,
President and Chief Executive Officer of Provisum Strategies LLC, and
an Adjunct Professor at Ohio State University. He has served as
Counselor to the Deputy Secretary and Acting Executive Director for
the Office of Grants and Training in the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security. He is author of Homeland Secu­rity and Federalism:
Protecting America from Out­side the Beltway, which will be published
in June 2009. The author thanks all the state and local law
enforce­ment agencies that responded to the survey.

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