The Reality of the DHS Enterprise Field Intelligence Information Sharing Environment

Michael Brown


Terrorist attacks such as those between 2014 and early 2017 in Garland, San Bernardino, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Seaside, and Chelsea highlight the increased challenge of preventing terrorist and homegrown violent extremists in the Homeland. At its core, the challenge for information sharing involves how federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal counterterrorism (CT) operations that collect, receive, analyze, and act upon information and intelligence prior to an attack. The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) was intended to reform and improve how intelligence/information sharing for CT would be accomplished. Given the rising domestic terrorism threat almost 13 years after the ISE was signed into law, this thesis analyzes the remaining ISE challenges and explores two alternative approaches to information sharing that may pave a different path toward building trust across the CT communities.

The 9/11 Commission Report detailed a framework for future intelligence reform in section 13.2 titled Unity of Effort in the Intelligence community. While this directly led to the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Center, it was not until Congress passed the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) that information sharing for counterterrorism became law. The 2004 IRTPA created the ISE and defined it as, “an overarching approach to strengthening the sharing of intelligence, terrorism, homeland security, law enforcement, and other information among federal, state, local, tribal, international, and private sector partners.”[1] However, despite the creation of the ISE and its program manager, challenges with information sharing exist. An inconsistent implementation dynamic has led to gaps in strategic CT capabilities. Local law enforcement lacks access to new, innovative national CT intelligence collection and analysis capabilities, which ultimately played a role in successful terrorist attacks from 2014 through 2017. Testimony from local leaders and other documentation from national police organizations have linked the problem to a lack of local intelligence collection and sharing activities prior to the attacks.

This thesis attempts to outline and detail some of the challenges for the ISE and its implementation of information sharing strategies since 9/11. However, this thesis also proposes that the solutions to these ISE challenges may already exist within two existing yet disparate counterterrorism programs: U.S. special operations forces (SOF) and the New York Police Department Intelligence Program. When the best practices of each model are combined, SOF/Team-of-Teams and the NYPD intelligence unit, they form a framework that contributes to an environment that fosters “robust, real-time information sharing” to the lowest operator level possible. Along with other recommended revisions from Congress, these case studies can contribute to an improved information sharing environment across the homeland security enterprise.







[1] Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, Pub. Law No. 108-458 (2004),

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