Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 10, 2009

Fusion Center Focus

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 10, 2009

The National Fusion Center Conference opens today in Kansas City.  In her recent testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee Secretary Napolitano signaled that her remarks to the conference should be of particular interest.  She is scheduled to keynote at 3PM Central Time on Wednesday.

The President’s budget proposal to Congress has increased federal support for state-operated fusion centers.  This sustained support is consistent with recommendations of  an April 2008 GAO study .

The fusion centers are an essential element in anticipating and preventing terrorist activity.  In some jurisdictions the counterterrorism mission is combined with an “all-crimes” mission.  This is consistent with the practice of intelligence-led policing. In a few jurisdictions the fusion centers are assuming an “all-hazards” mission that begins to build a regional capacity for real risk analysis.

This week’s Time magazine opens and closes a story on fusion centers by highlighting concerns about privacy rights.   The potential for abuse is present.   Widely criticized covert investigations by the Maryland State Police did not involve the Maryland Fusion Center, but illustrate the cause for concern.   The American Civil Liberties Union is giving fusion centers ongoing critical attention.

Federal guidelines for fusion centers are explicit and detailed in protection of privacy rights.  Federal statutes, in particular 28 CFR, Part 23, establish rigorous standards for intelligence collection, almost always requiring reasonable suspicion or criminal predicate.  Ongoing training and enforcement is needed to preserve the operational benefits of the fusion centers.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 10, 2009 @ 10:10 am

Firmly believeing that domestic intel on terrorism is a ground up process have always supported the FUSION CENTER concept. My understanding is that federal department and agency manipulation of the personnel security process has meant that only “friends” of the feds get cleared to work in the fusion centers and have access to their reports, even unclassified ones. Which raises the interesting question of internal fusion center operations, collection, analysis, and dessimination of product as in the old journalism complete story of what, where, who, when, how and hopefully why. Given the DOJ regulations you might think the Judiciary Committees might have spent the most time on oversight of fusion center process and system review, or you might think the Intel Committees of House and Senate! Well you would be wrong as almost no oversight of funding, staffing, legal authority, implementation, or product and its utility have been made by the 109th-111th Congresses. Oh, that’s right they have been doing other important work. Also still no DHS or DOJ or joint guidelines accessible to interested parties on domestic intel gathering. Have any STATE AG’s looked at these issues?

I hope this comment draws others even in rebuttal or correction or supplementation from readers.

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