CRS: Homeland Security Intelligence: Perceptions, Statutory Definitions, and Approaches


Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress has focused considerable attention on how intelligence is collected, analyzed, and disseminated in order to protect the homeland against terrorist threats. Prior to 9/11, it was possible to make a distinction between “domestic intelligence”—primarily law enforcement information collected within the United States—and “foreign intelligence”— primarily military, political, and economic intelligence collected outside the country. Today, threats to the homeland posed by terrorist groups are now national security threats. Intelligence collected outside the United States is often very relevant to the threat environment inside the United States and vice versa.

Although the activities involved in homeland security intelligence (HSINT) itself are not new, the relative importance of state, local, and private sector stakeholders; the awareness of how law enforcement information might protect national security; and the importance attached to homeland security intelligence have all increased substantially since the events of 9/11.

There are numerous intelligence collection disciplines through which the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) collects intelligence to support informed national security decision-making at the national level and the allocation of tactical military and law enforcement resources at the local level. The collection disciplines are generally referred to as those which fall within national technical means or non-technical means. Technical means include signals intelligence (SIGINT), measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT), and imagery intelligence (IMINT). Nontechnical means include human intelligence (HUMINT) and open source intelligence (OSINT). Each of these collection disciplines is source-specific—that is, a technical platform or human source, generally managed by an agency or mission manager, collects intelligence that is used for national intelligence purposes.

HSINT, however, is generally not source specific, as it includes both national technical and nontechnical means of collection. For example, HSINT includes human intelligence collected by federal border security personnel or state and local law enforcement officials, as well as SIGINT collected by the National Security Agency. Reasonable individuals can differ, therefore, with respect to the question of whether HSINT is another collection discipline, or whether homeland security is simply another purpose for which the current set of collection disciplines is being harnessed. Homeland security information, as statutorily defined, pertains directly to (1) terrorist intentions and capabilities to attack people and infrastructure within the United States, and (2)
U.S. abilities to deter, prevent, and respond to potential terrorist attacks.

This report provides a potential conceptual model of how to frame HSINT, including geographic, structural/statutory, and holistic approaches. Given that state, local, tribal, and private sector officials play such an important role in HSINT, the holistic model, one not constrained by geography or levels of government, strikes many as the most compelling. The report argues that there is, in effect, a Homeland Security Intelligence Community (HSIC). Although the HSIC’s members are diffused across the nation, they share a common counterterrorism interest. The proliferation of intelligence and information fusion centers across the country indicate that state and local leaders believe there is value to centralizing intelligence gathering and analysis in a manner that assists them in preventing and responding to local manifestations of terrorist threats
to their people, infrastructure, and other assets. At the policy and operational levels, the communication and integration of federal HSINT efforts with these state and local fusion centers will likely remain an important priority and future challenge. This report will not be updated.

To read the full report, click here.