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Homeland Security

Threat Assessment

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), defines threat assessment as follows:

    A systematic effort to identify and evaluate existing or potential terorrist threats to a jurisdiction and its target assets. Due to the difficulty in accurately assessing terroist capabilities, intentions and tactics, threat assessments may yield only general information about potential risks.

These asessments consider the full spectrum of threats, such as natural disasters, criminal activity, and major accidents, as well as terrorist activity.

The intelligence process is the foundation of threat assessment. Systematic exploitation of crime-rlated information can lead to and support evaluation and analysis of terrorism and terrorist groups. The who, what, where, when and how of terroist groups are closely related. Intelligence efforts help produce reliable, informed responses to these questions. Without such a process, threat assessments can be unpredictable and unreliable.

Threat assessments must be compiled from comprehensive and rigorous research and analysis. Law enforcement cannot function unilaterally. Threat assessments that do not incorporate the kno wledge, assessments, and understanding of state, local, and private organizations and agencies with the potential threats being assessed are inherently incomplete. For example, a threat assessment of waterdistrict facilities should include the most comprehensive data available from local police, sheriff, and fire departments; health services; emergency management organizations; and other applicable local, state, and federal agencies that may be affected by an attack on the w ater district's infrastructure. The threat assessment should also assimilate germane, opensource, or nonproprietary threat assessments, as well as intelligence informa tion. Lastly, the assessment must provide a high level of awareness and understanding regarding the changing threat and threat environment faced by a government entity.

To accomplish the intelligence mission of processing a threat assessment, a law enforcement executive must ensure that an officer or unit is trained and assigned to identify potential targets and can recommend enhancements for security at those targets. Action must be taken by all departments, including those with limited resources. Ideally, the entire patrol force should be trained to conduct intelligence g athering and reporting.

Threat levels are based on the degree to which combinations of these factors are present:

  • Existance:A terrorist group is present, or is able to gain access to a given locality.
  • Capability:The capability of a terrorist group to carry out an attach has been assessed or demonstrated.
  • Intent:Evidence of terrorist group activity, including stated or assessed intent to conduct terrorist activity.
  • History:Demonstrated terrorist activity in the past.
  • Targeting:Current credible information or activity exists that indicates preparations for specific terroirst operations - intelligence collection by a suspet group, preparations of destructive devices, other actions.
  • Security environment:Indicates if and how the political and security posture of the threatened jurisdiction affects the capability of terroirst elements to carry out their intentions. Addresses whether the jurisdiction is concerned with terroirsm and wehther it has taken strong proactive countermeasures to deal with such a threat.

Identifying a threat is a complex process that is too often overlooked because the process of threat assessment is not well understood and is often seen as technically unreachable. Many resources are present within and outside of the law enforcement community to help law enforcement agencies complete this task, and it is important that they be used.

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