Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 3, 2012

Committee duel over fusion center report

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 3, 2012

As noted in several media, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has released a report highly critical of state fusion centers.  (Access has been a bit difficult on Wednesday.) Here are a few paragraphs from the Subcommittee’s news release:

A two-year bipartisan investigation by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that Department of Homeland Security efforts to engage state and local intelligence “fusion centers” has not yielded significant useful information to support federal counterterrorism intelligence efforts.

“It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” said Senator Tom Coburn, the Subcommittee’s ranking member who initiated the investigation.

The investigation determined that senior DHS officials were aware of the problems hampering effective counterterrorism work with the fusion centers, but did not always inform Congress of the issues, nor ensure the problems were fixed in a timely manner. MORE

Chairman of the full-committee Joe Lieberman has taken exception to the subcommittee report.  From a Wednesday statement:

“I strongly disagree with the report’s core assertion that ‘fusion centers have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts,’” Lieberman said. “This statement is not supported by the examples presented in the report and is contrary to the public record, which shows fusion centers have played a significant role in many recent terrorism cases and have helped generate hundreds of tips and leads that have led to current FBI investigations.

“The report does include valuable findings in some areas. It cites examples of inappropriate use of homeland security grant funds and accurately notes that FEMA has struggled to account for how homeland security grant funds are allocated and used, a longstanding concern of mine.

“But the report also contradicts public statements by the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI, who have acknowledged the value fusion centers provide to the intelligence community. MORE

This is a case when I expect the same data could support two very different understandings of reality.

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Comment by TwShiloh

October 3, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

Well, the data about fusion centers has been pretty consistent about their shortcomings. On the other side there have been a number of assertions, very few of which have been supported with data.

The idea that fusion centers have contributed to terrorism cases isn’t really the question (although the record on that is not something I’d put much money on). Rather, the question is have the fusion centers added value to the counter-terrorism mission in line with their expense. Or, could the money and resources spent on fusion centers been allocated in a way which would have yielded even better results.

After 11 years and 1.5 billion dollars, there better be some successes that proponents can point to. The question is, have there been enough.

As far as intelligence produced from fusion centers the charge of shoddy, untimely, and irrelevant fits quite well. Do a quick perusal on publicintelligence.com or other venues where products have been released and imagine what sorts of grades they would get in a college (or even high school) classroom both for writing capability and for demonstration of critical thinking/analytical ability.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 4, 2012 @ 4:04 am

Noting again for the record that domestic INTEL and protection of civil rights and civil liberties in that collection, processing, and distribution was a primary reason for the creation of DHS. I rank it third in the rankinsek,o

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 4, 2012 @ 7:35 am

TwShiloh: To your point, yesterday’s front page, top-of-the-fold, Washington Post story describes the fusion centers as “pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions…” There’s a litany. And as you noted, many of the Fusion Center products that have emerged are amateurish at best, even stupid and abusive from time to time. I will not invest too much in defense except to say, the intelligence process is easy to do badly and hard to do well. This is especially in regard to the institutional cultivation and consistent use of critical thinking. I am not surprised that during the first decade of operations there were plenty of failures, problems, mistakes, howling errors, and profound misjudgments. I have a sense — but much less than persuasive evidence — that many (not all) of the Fusion Centers have learned from this painful process. Is it worth the investment? It is a legitimate question that strikes me as very difficult to answer. The Subcommittee report makes a strong case for a negative answer, but it strikes me more as a prosecutorial case than an objective case.

Comment by TwShiloh

October 4, 2012 @ 2:25 pm


“…but it strikes me more as a prosecutorial case than an objective case.”

I agree.

Fusion centers appear to do a decent job of passing along information and doing routine tasks (criminal lookups, database checks, etc.). It’s the other stuff (the intelligence process – planning, collation, analysis, etc.)which, as you point out, is also very difficult. I just remain unconvinced that many fusion centers see the intelligence process as particularly important and worthy of emphasis. If you look at their hiring, staffing, leadership, training, and prioritization decisions (or lack thereof), there isn’t a lot there that looks like intelligence is on the front burner.

Have things improved over the past decade? Perhaps. But how long is appropriate to expect real results or make the decision that the current system needs to be retooled.

A better way to go may be to allow the plethora of centers that exist continue…as crime centers. Doing that which most can already do fairly well. Then consolidate the analysis capabilities into regional centers where you can actually work intelligence plans without duplication, and benefit from having sufficient numbers of analysts of varying skill levels.

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