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.