Cover: Identifying Enemies Among Us

Identifying Enemies Among Us

Evolving Terrorist Threats and the Continuing Challenges of Domestic Intelligence Collection and Information Sharing

Published Jan 13, 2014

by Brian Michael Jenkins, Andrew Liepman, Henry H. Willis


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Research Questions

  1. What is the current threat of terrorism to the United States and what might be done about it?
  2. How has the threat changed over the past three years?
  3. What are the obstacles to improved intelligence sharing and cooperation among agencies?
  4. What will be the effects of potential reductions in counterterrorism funding?

This report summarizes the discussions at a seminar organized and hosted by the RAND Corporation at which a group of acting and former senior government and law enforcement officials, practitioners, and experts examined domestic intelligence operations and information sharing as these relate to terrorist threats. Topics discussed include changes in the direction and scope of the threat; the differences in the focus of local, state, and federal agencies; the need for better communication among law enforcement and intelligence agencies; the role of Joint Terrorism Task Forces; the shortcomings of fusion centers; the political sensitivity of collecting domestic intelligence; and the consequences of reductions in counterterrorism funding on the level of risk the American people will accept.

Key Findings

Counterterrorism Experts with Divergent Views on the Terrorist Threat Have Several Areas of Agreement

  • The terrorist threat has changed, from a strategic perspective.
  • Local law enforcement focuses on how the terrorist threat manifests itself within the communities the agencies protect.
  • Categorizing threats by group and compartmenting them by origin may unduly limit intelligence sharing and cooperation and pertains more to past threats than likely future threats.
  • Building national resilience will require a more composed and nuanced national dialogue.
  • Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) remain the central construct of the domestic counterterrorist structure.
  • Some of the obstacles that limit cooperation, information sharing, and collaboration among the various layers of government were put in place for good reason.
  • Privacy and civil liberties (notwithstanding the current furor) should not be used as a blanket excuse to keep the intelligence community and local law enforcement apart. We should think about how to smartly remove barriers that prevent cooperation and communication between these two communities that have so much to benefit and learn from each other.
  • It is difficult for national intelligence structures to talk about domestic terrorism.
  • The nation's zero tolerance for terrorism may soon come into direct conflict with the need to reduce budgets.


  • More alternative analysis and more frequent interaction between the strategic analysts in Washington and local authorities might help in anticipating the kinds of threats that are likely to affect homeland security.
  • The terrorism nomenclature developed over the past decade may not be appropriate for future threats and could cause U.S. authorities to miss an emerging threat; new ways to categorize the threat could improve the ability to detect intersections among such disparate groups as cyber criminals, organized crime, narco-traffickers, and terrorists.
  • The rigid diktat that all terrorism must be prevented and Washington's tendency to focus on fault-finding rather than improving performance are counterproductive; a more composed and nuanced national dialogue is required.
  • Better investigative cooperation with state and local entities could be achieved by determining why the relationships between the JTTFs and local police are limited and removing unnecessary obstacles that prevent consistent and quality cooperation between them.
  • Privacy and civil-liberties protections must be at the forefront in rethinking relationships and breaking down barriers between the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies.
  • The nation's zero tolerance for terrorism will soon come into direct conflict with the need to reduce budgets, and the question of the level of risk the nation can realistically tolerate will have to be addressed.

This conference report is a product of the RAND Corporation's continuing program of self-initiated independent research. Support for such research is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

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