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A New and Challenging Era for Rural Homeland Security

As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration.  I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.  ~John Adams

It might have seemed like a drill, but it was not: First responders have been dispatched to a rural residence to investigate a domestic homicide. While searching the house they see walls draped with Nazi memorabilia, an application to join a white supremacist group, pamphlets describing how to make a “dirty” bomb, and a cache of chemicals and other toxic substances, including radioactive materials. They later were told that the deceased was “angry” about the election of President Barack Obama and had been mixing some of the chemicals in the sink.

This frightening incident actually took place in December 2008 in Belfast, Maine, a picturesque New England seaport.  The Bangor Daily News later reported that resident James Cummings apparently had been shot and killed by his wife, an alleged domestic abuse victim, who said he had discussed the making of dirty bombs and had in fact, as suspected, been mixing chemicals in the sink. A closer search of the house found many of the materials required to manufacture a “radiological dispersal device,” the more formal name used to describe a so-called dirty bomb. Among those materials were four one-gallon containers of mixed chemicals, including: (a) the precursor materials needed for the manufacture of peroxide-based explosives; and (b) certain metal agents that are used to sensitize and amplify the effects of explosions. A number of smaller jars containing radioactive isotopes also were recovered. The police also found additional Nazi memorabilia in the house, along with a completed application to the National Socialist Movement, a white supremacist group.

Belfast, a popular tourist town, hardly seemed a likely site for a dirty-bomb laboratory. Indeed, when Americans conjure up images of Maine, lobsters and rocky coastlines usually come to mind – not FBI special agents wearing hazmat suits.  Residents of Maine (and other rural states) also seek a better quality of life in which to raise their families in relative safety, to enjoy the outdoors, and to decompress from the pressures of the outside world.  Many movie stars, politicians, corporate executives, authors, and other celebrities also seek the solitude of these less hectic states, where they and their families can lead more of a normal life – i.e., without paparazzi – and blend in more or less anonymously.  The rural states also have a reputation of respecting individual privacy. Moreover, the more extreme forms of violent crime are less frequent in those states.

Major Changes in the Great Outdoors

However, and despite the fact that actual or suspected incidents of terrorism are rarely encountered in the rural states, last year’s incident in Belfast is a reminder that the peaceful pattern of the past is changing – and that serious incidents are, in fact, now occurring more frequently in the backyards of rural America. Ironically, terrorists and extremists also are attracted by the same sense of anonymity, and the opportunity to be left alone, that is offered in rural areas.

Although the record remains unclear in some respects, it is known – from The 9/11 Commission Report as well as extensive media coverage (by the Portland Press Herald, for example), that terrorists Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari drove to Portland, Maine, from Boston on 10 September 2001.  They were identified shopping, dining, and making an ATM withdrawal near the Portland International Jetport before spending the night at a Comfort Inn. They then took a connecting flight to Boston – on the day of the attacks.

The 9/11 Commission, and the FBI, floated various theories as to why Atta and al-Omari had made the side trip to Maine. One theory was that they were trying to throw off law-enforcement authorities; another was that they thought security would be more lax at the Portland airport. Whatever the real reason, their mere presence in Portland underscores the need, in the Age of Terrorism, for continued vigilance – by private citizens and law-enforcement personnel alike – against international terrorists and/or their domestic counterparts.

There have been, in fact, several domestic terrorism incidents – including some with strong rural roots, not incidentally – in recent years. Eric Rudolph – the serial bomber and convicted murderer whose crimes included the Centennial Park Bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama – was one of the better known domestic terrorists. Another was Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber who murdered three persons and injured 23 during a lengthy campaign of mail bombings between 1978 and 1995.  Before being apprehended in Murphy, North Carolina, Rudolph lived in a camp in the woods, feeding himself by stealing food from local farms (and sometimes from dumpsters). Kaczynski was living in an isolated shack in Lincoln, Montana, at the time he was arrested.

From the Top of the Mountain to the Bottom of the Heap

Domestic terrorism is not limited to individual eccentrics; it also includes groups – violent groups. Over the past decade, the ecoterrorist group Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the animal-rights extremist group Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have carried out dangerous operations against U.S. industries nationwide.  One of the more spectacular ELF attacks occurred on 19 October 1998, atop Colorado’s Vail Mountain, where ELF members burned eight buildings, including a restaurant, and damaged ski lifts, radio towers, and a ski patrol office.  The group was reportedly protesting a proposed 885-acre ski-area expansion into a known habitat for the endangered Canada lynx.  The $12 million in damages caused by the ELF attack was the most costly U.S. ecoterrorist incident reported to date.

The ELF and ALF groups have been particularly active in Maine – where, since 1999, they have vandalized property, damaged a number of heavy vehicles, and committed numerous break-ins and thefts. Among their principal (and extremely varied) targets were Boise Cascade, Jackson Laboratories (renowned for its genetics research), several hunting clubs (including one in which the propane heating system of one building was rigged to explode), and a municipal landfill. Other ecoterrorist attacks occurred in 2005 in response to the Plum Creek Timber Company’s plans to develop resorts, sporting camps, and hundreds of housing units in Maine’s relatively undeveloped Moosehead Lake region.

Today, well-organized and sophisticated criminal groups – such as the violent jihadists, ecoterrorists, animal-rights extremists, white supremacists, and anti-abortion radicals – represent unique challenges to law-enforcement agencies operating in rural environments, where the coordination of interagency operations may be more difficult and personnel as well as material resources are relatively scarce.

An Innovative and Effective Solution

One solution for the latter problem has been the creation of so-called fusion centers – a concept that evolved after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to improve intelligence collection and sharing from diverse sources.  In the Executive Summary of its August 2006 Fusion Center Guidelines, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said that the nation’s fusion centers also could serve as a means to implement the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (NCISP) – a set of 25 recommendations, collectively described as a “blueprint,” that law-enforcement officials were encouraged to use to facilitate the creation or enhancement of criminal intelligence entities.

The Guidelines – which were created by law-enforcement officials and experts from federal, state, tribal, and local agencies – address such issues as collaboration between agencies, intelligence-led policing, and community policing. Following are brief summaries of some of the more important sections of the Guidelines that are particularly relevant to state and local as well as national law-enforcement agencies and organizations.

The DOJ describes a fusion center as “an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by analyzing data from a variety of sources.”  The fusion process itself pertains to the acquisition, management, exchange, and analysis of homeland security-related and crime-related intelligence and information – obtained from law-enforcement, public-safety, and private-sector sources to produce meaningful and actionable intelligence and other helpful information.  The fusion process also permits the augmentation and reevaluation of existing intelligence data, thus allowing for the latest updated information to be provided to the field.

The DOJ stresses the importance of public-safety and private-sector participants to the fusion centers because they collect and generate critical information, including risk and threat assessments and suspicious-activity reports that may be merged with the criminal intelligence already available. The public-safety and private-sector agencies also offer a pool of available subject-matter experts whose talents may be particularly helpful with threat identification.  The DOJ recommends that the fusion centers should be organized at the state level at a minimum, and should be designed to encompass all levels and entities of government as well as the public and private sectors,.  The composition of the center’s participants may vary across jurisdictions, but each should have a core criminal- intelligence component. To help meet these requirements, the DOJ compiled a non-exclusive list of “functional categories” – such as, for example, agriculture, banking, water, hazardous materials, energy, and health services as well as public works and transportation.

Privacy Concerns & Mandatory Safeguards

The DOJ further recommends that public-safety and private-sector data be virtually fused with law-enforcement information through networking (with the help of a search component).  Federal, state, tribal, and local agencies should be able to access information about and available from current fusion centers, other criminal-intelligence units, and operations agencies working through a secure portal ( operated by the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center (NCIRC), an agency sponsored by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Because of privacy concerns, it is important to note, the fusion centers will not combine any of the personal information contained in federal databases with similar types of information in state, local, and/or tribal databases.  Rather, should there be a threat, a criminal-activity “predicate,” or a public-safety need, the necessary information will be compiled, analyzed, and shared by federal, state, local, and tribal representatives at the fusion center, who will access their respective proprietary databases.  The final intelligence product in this case, according to the DOJ, will be safeguarded by the “entity taking action in accordance with any applicable fusion-center and/or department policy, including state and federal privacy laws and requirements.”

About five years ago – i.e., circa 2004 and 2005 – the DOJ also reports, numerous states created fusion centers, using federal, state, and local funds.  However, because there was a lack of standards at that time to address cooperation and communication concerns between the centers, most of them became repositories of information rather than the active vehicles needed to exchange information. At least partly for that reason, the DOJ later formed a Law Enforcement Intelligence Fusion Center Focus Group (FCFG) to help remedy the problem.

DHS and Focus-Group Contributions

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had also been working – through its Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Intelligence and Information-Sharing Working Group – on the development of guidelines for collecting, analyzing, and sharing intelligence information related to terrorism. It was through the combined efforts of the two departments that the initial Fusion Center Guidelines were developed and published.  Two additional focus groups (FGs) were then created – the Public Safety FCFG and the Private Sector FCFG – to compile the respective guidelines needed by these key fusion-center participants.

The various focus groups that had been formed included members representing federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies; other public-safety agencies; members of the private sector; actively operating fusion-center members; and members of national public-safety, law-enforcement, and private-sector professional organizations. Today, the Guidelines offer a uniform way to establish and operate the fusion centers both to maximize interagency coordination and cooperation while at the same time improving anti-crime and counterterrorism operations.

In October 2007, President George W. Bush spelled out, in a “National Strategy for Information Sharing,” his administration’s plan for an integrated national system of fusion centers. To support that plan, both DHS and the FBI provided staff to the fusion centers. There are now 70 such centers throughout the United States, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last week described them as a “top priority” in the Obama Administration’s own anti-terrorism strategy.

Back to the State of Maine

Maine’s fusion center, officially known as the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), was established in December 2006 and today represents a collaborative effort between the Maine State Police, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security whereby terrorism intelligence is collected, analyzed, and shared with appropriate entities at all levels of government. The MIAC also plays an active role in border protection.

Maine’s fusion center operates a 24-hour toll-free hotline, along with a confidential online portal to report “suspicious activity.” A dedicated advisory board oversees the MIAC’s activities and also serves as a civil-liberties watchdog.  Interestingly, it was the Washington Threat and Analysis Center (official name of the Washington, D.C., fusion center) flagged the dirty bomb case in Belfast, Maine, following up on information developed about potential threats to the then-ongoing presidential inauguration.

If nothing else, the incidents described earlier are a continuing reminder that, when confronting homeland-security threats, such traditional (but not necessarily wise) sayings as “not in my back yard” and “let well enough alone” do not, and should not, apply to terrorists and extremists. These are dangerous and unwanted guests. In rural settings, law-enforcement professionals and other first responders, as well as local residents, must challenge yesterday’s culture by actively looking for things that seem “out of place” – specifically including suspicious activity and unusual behavior. Seemingly innocuous observations may be of critical value in a later investigation. Information of interest should, therefore, be carefully observed, reported, documented, analyzed, and shared by appropriate police and intelligence officials. Creating a police-community partnership is paramount in fostering the accumulation of critical intelligence and the mitigation of potential threats to national security. Seen in that context, the development of fusion centers in back yards nationwide is obviously a major step in the right direction.

For additional information

About the Belfast, Maine, “dirty bomb” incident, see

About the Maine connection to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, see

About the Earth Liberation Front, see Front_actions

About the Animal Liberation Front, see

About Fusion Centers in general, see

Jonathan A. Dudek

Jonathan A. Dudek, PH.D., is senior vice president, Forensic and Behavioral Science Services, and deputy director, Investigations, at Executive Action LLC. A highly respected forensic psychologist and published author, he also provides consultation services to investigators of high-pro le criminal cases involving sexually violent and/or deviant behavior. His pioneering sexual-homicide research for the FBI has earned him international honors. Dr. Dudek also provides a broad spectrum of risk-assessment and mitigation strategies to corporate, public-safety, and government-agency clients.



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