Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 24, 2007

The Only Thing Certain About Fusion Centers Is Change

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,State and Local HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on September 24, 2007

Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee (Chairman Jane Harman, D-CA) of House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Way Forward With Fusion Centers: Challenges and Strategies for Change.”

Date: Thursday, September 27, 1000
Place: 311 Cannon Building
Witnesses:
• Charles Allen – Chief intelligence officer, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security
• Michael Mines – Deputy assistant director, Directorate of Intelligence, FBI
• Eileen Larence – Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues, Government Accountability Office (GAO)
• Todd Masse – Specialist, Domestic Intelligence and Counterterrorism, Congressional Research Service (CRS)
• John Rollins – Specialist, Terrorism and International Crime, CRS
• Norman Beasley – Coordinator for counter terrorism, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office

Fusion Centers started back in 2003 with a good amount of support from DHS, state and local law enforcement, the FBI, and even Congress. Soon after, CQ’s Jeff Stein ran a story on April 25, 2006 about how popular the new Centers are proving to be, called “Local Intelligence ‘Fusion Centers’ Emerge as Major Force”.

At that time about 40 states had established their own “fusion centers,” where local agencies can share and act on criminal and terrorism information with representatives from the FBI and DHS. In August 2005, DHS and the Department of Justice issued guidelines to bring the fusion centers in line with federal practices.

DHS Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Charlie Allen would follow these developments with plans to send DHS analysts and officers to one Fusion Center a month over the next two years. Two months later, DHS announced plans to embed their analysts at fusion centers in New York City, Los Angeles, Reistertown, MD, and Baton Rouge.

Today, about 43 Fusion Centers exist. Since 2003, DHS has provided more than $300 million to states and regions to establish these Centers and have assigned only about 15 of its own intel analysts to the Centers. (35 more analysts are to be deployed by year’s end.) A list of state and regional intelligence fusion centers dated March 8 was first published by Secrecy News, and by the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center of the Justice Department in Tallahassee.

According to CQ’s Stein, the popularity of fusion centers reflects state and local disappointment with DHS’s Homeland Security Information Network (too many points of contact) and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (too opaque).

But how well are they doing?

The Congressional Research Service issued a withering June 6 report suggesting that little counterterrorism was actually being accomplished by the Fusion Centers. They seemed to be drifting back to their comfort zones: “Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach.” That might be code for “everything and anything.” Its true that connecting dots requires better understanding of the dots and the relationships between them, but do more eyes on the dots necessarily mean better connectivity?

There are those who believe these Centers actually do a little too much work.

At a recent meeting of the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee (a DHS entity populated by private citizens and senior DHS officials), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a representative to submit a prepared complaining about FC oversight and management with special focus on the concern that with the added fusion comes an erosion of privacy. The EPIC statement recommends:

• Disclosing the location, jurisdiction, and funding provided for each center.
• Suspending of funds to the centers until a full privacy impact analysis is concluded.
• An inspector general’s investigation to confirm compliance with federal laws about due process, privacy, civil liberties and civil rights.
• Requiring each Fusion Center to publicly name all its federal, state, local and private partners.
• Annual reports from each Fusion Center listing the number of arrests, prosecutions, and convictions by category of offense.
• Having any information collected, analyzed or shared with a center comply with the Federal Privacy Act.

Whoa. We’re not already doing this? Chairwoman Harman’s hearing will likely get into these issues, but will more likely focus on performance measures. With both CRS and GAO speaking at the hearing we’ll get some critical details.  But that a local user, Norman Beasley, Coordinator for counter terrorism at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, will speak means we might here the other side of the story. 

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1 Comment »

Pingback by Identity Resolution Daily Links 2007-09-24 - Identity Resolution Daily

September 24, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

[...] Homeland Security Watch: The Only Thing Certain About Fusion Centers Is Change “Today, about 43 Fusion Centers exist. Since 2003, DHS has provided more than $300 million to states and regions to establish these Centers and have assigned only about 15 of its own intel analysts to the Centers. (35 more analysts are to be deployed by year’s end.) A list of state and regional intelligence fusion centers dated March 8 was first published by Secrecy News, and by the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center of the Justice Department in Tallahassee.” [...]

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