Napolitano Warns Police Chiefs About Evolving Terrorism and Domestic Extremism – Lauds DHS ‘Fusion Centers’

By Edwin Mora | March 25, 2011 | 5:33 AM EDT

( - America faces a "constantly changing" terrorism threat that includes expanding partnerships among al Qaeda-inspired terrorist groups, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"More and more, we are seeing a homegrown extremism being an issue,” she said.

"The terrorist threat to our nation is as busy as it has been since anytime prior 911. The difference is that instead of one al Qaeda group, we now have many al Qaeda groups or al Qaeda-inspired groups, including for example AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], which has been centered in Yemen, which has been one the busiest ones in terms of attempts on the United States since I have been secretary.”

In a speech to members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police's (IACP), Napolitano said law enforcement agencies in the United States “have to change and evolve” along with the terrorism threat that the country now faces.

She also called for a new type of “security architecture” that includes the proper resources and information sharing “to make sure that we are minimizing the risk that one of these attacks or attempted attacks will succeed,” and “maximizing our ability to cut something off before it has a chance to succeed and we are involving more people in that process.”

This new kind of “security architecture” should involve the government, law enforcement, the private sector, and citizens alike, Napolitano told the IACP on Wednesday, because it will increase the amount of information available to help prevent an attack inside U.S. borders.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Napolitano said “al Qaeda-inspired groups” are not necessarily taking orders from the “core al Qaeda.”

“Instead, it’s the process of a shared violent extremist ideology --  ideology in the name of a very warped sense of Islam, but aimed at the West and aimed at the United States as part of the attacks on the West,” said Napolitano.

The DHS secretary highlighted her department’s “If You See Something, Say Something” initiative as an effective program to involve private citizens to report terrorism signs and other threats to law enforcement officials.

She also underscored DHS’s ongoing collaboration with federal agencies such as  the FBI in countering violent extremism through the federal government’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

A girl walks past a wall with graffiti about the al-Qaida network in a Muslim area of the northern city of Kano, Nigeria. (AP File Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Napolitano also talked about DHS working with state and local law enforcement to combat violent extremism by expanding and strengthening the 72 fusion centers currently established throughout the country.

According to the DHS Web site, “State and major urban fusion centers serve as focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial (SLTT) and private sector partners.”

“Located in states and major urban areas throughout the country, fusion centers are uniquely situated to empower front-line law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency response, public health, CIKR protection, and private sector security personnel to understand local implications of national intelligence, thus enabling local officials to better protect their communities,” according to DHS.

“We have now established baseline criteria for all fusion centers,” Napolitano told the IACP. “We have now surveyed all fusion centers to see whether they meet that baseline criterion.”

“What they are designed to do is to facilitate the information gathering and sharing process back and forth as I described for terrorism, tactics, techniques, [and] behaviors,” she said, “but also other crimes, trans-national crime in particular. And we also have found that you can use them for other hazards as well,” such as pandemics and industrial accidents, she added.

Napolitano commended the IACP for their commitment to train 58,000 law enforcement officials to recognize behaviors and signs related to terrorism and to expand information sharing, among other things, through the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative.

The DHS secretary’s comments came during the IACP’s Division of State and Provincial Police Mid-Year Conference in Alexandria, Va., just outside the nation’s capital.

Napolitano did not mention border security despite the DHS’s ongoing 287 (g) program that delegates federal immigration law enforcement authority to sate and local law agents in over 70 U.S. jurisdictions.