The Angels Wake-Up Call
Fusion Centers Revealed
Are fusion centers considered a bad investment that may be on the chopping block of new Federal budget cuts? Established in 2003, as a result of 9/11, fusion centers were supposed to be an important aspect of U.S. successful counterterrorism efforts. The fusion centers would provide Federal, state, local, and tribal officials a location where they could gather and share information pertaining to terrorists. This would in addition allow them to seek out and interrupt terrorist activity. Based on recent reports these fusion centers have a long way to go to reach their intended goal. One such report was produced by the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs dated October 3, 2012. This report took a look into Federal support for and involvement in state and local fusion centers. This is majority and minority staff report that revealed some disappointing results that would easy label fusion centers as a bad investment in need of some major repairs. In contrast to fusion centers nearly violating laws, producing junk information, and the mismanaging of personnel and Federal government funds, fusion centers have had some positive results since they began operating. Although positive, the results have nothing to do with fusion centers’ initial mission once the Feds got involved.
The intended purpose of fusion centers is to strengthen U.S. abilities to detect, disrupt, and respond to domestic terrorism activity. The Homeland Security Act 2002 was signed into law by George W Bush on 11/25/02. This law helped establish the DHS (Department of Homeland Security). The law doesn’t mention fusion centers per se, however the laws does give the DHS authority to gather together and share terrorist related information with Federal, state, and local officials. Two months after that in 03/2003, President Bush created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. He created this to be able to analyze terrorist information at a central site. This was similar to a headquarters. Two months after the TTIC was created, Bush created another organization led by the FBI called the Terrorist Screening Center. This particular organization was created in order to consolidate the terrorist watch list. The establishment of these two centers pretty much wiped out the DHS’ authority in the U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
It was after the release of the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 when the fusion centers gained more direct federal involvement consideration. The 2004, 9/11 Commission report indicated that the U.S.’s inability to “connect dots”, and share terrorist activity in time contributed to U.S. not being able to foresee and prevent the 9/11 attacks. The DHS figured that more federal support to fusion centers would enhance U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Congress and the White House then started passing bills and issuing executive orders that designated the Federal government’s involvement in counterterrorism efforts. There were a number of organizations and centers that were created as a result of the Federal government and its involvement with fusion centers since 9/11. In 2003, first the DHS was created. Then the TTIC and the TSC was created. In 2004 the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) took over responsibility from the DHS. The 2004 intelligence reform law and executive order 13356 created Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) to assist Federal, state, and local officials in sharing terrorist related information. In 2006 a fusion center plan was submitted and in 06/06 the fusion center plan was approved.
In 2006 DHS expressed how fusion centers would serve highly beneficial to taxpayers and U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It was said that fusion centers would allow routine access to local intelligence that supported the fusion center’s mission. The subcommittee’s investigation of fusion centers showed how fusion centers just didn’t stand up to their expectation. According to the 9/11 Commission Act 2007 enacted by the Bush administration, the Federal government was to get involved with fusion centers to administer operational and intelligence advice in efforts of counterterrorism. They also were to make sure the fusion centers were properly and sufficiently staffed and had the proper equipment and technology to do the job.
The mission of the fusion centers as explained by the DHS is set to improve situational awareness at Federal level. It was to improve access to local officials. It was supposed to provide consultation on state and local issues. Fusion centers would have access to nontraditional information sources and would clearly define information gathering requirements. Fusion centers were also supposed to improve intelligence and information sharing, and dissemination capabilities. Lastly, fusion centers were supposed to help to improve prevention, protection, response, and recovery capabilities.
In 2008 the Department of Justice along with Homeland Security published “Baseline Capabilities for State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers” set forth by the Bush Administration. It was an outline of how the fusion centers would operate and what was needed to operate them. It was reported that in 2008 few fusion centers possessed the minimum capabilities to effectively participate in counterterrorism information sharing with the Feds. This report also indicated that it would take an estimated 1 to 5 years to reach all baseline capabilities. Maybe it’s because many of the fusion centers weren’t properly equipped, they produced poor results.
The subcommittee conducted a 13 month investigation (04/11/2009-04/30/2010) on fusion centers. After investigating 2 years of Federal involvement with fusion centers and examining 80 thousand pages of documents, they concluded that the DHS’s involvement with fusion centers produced no results that were expected by statute, White House strategies, and the DHS’s own report. The subcommittee also found that DHS did not monitor the money granted to fusion centers properly. Also, the subcommittee learned that many of the fusion centers had personal agendas other than counterterrorism.
Most of the information reported was late, unreliable, and sometimes violated civil rights and Privacy Act protection of Americans. In addition to that, much of the information reported was unrelated to terrorism, and obtained from previously published records. It was also learned that DHS officials’ public claims about the fusion centers weren’t always accurate. DHS didn’t report all problems to Congress, nor did they mention if the problems that were reported were fixed in a timely manner.
In 2010 the DHS requested an assessment of state and local fusion centers and found numerous deficiencies in the centers, but neglected to report the deficiencies to Congress. When the subcommittee asked for a copy of the assessment, DHS lied at first and said the assessment didn’t exist. They then later furnished a copy for the subcommittee. The DHS did an assessment of their own in 2011. It wasn’t as in-depth as the one conducted by the subcommittee. The results were more positive. DHS’s assessment did however; find ongoing weaknesses at the fusion centers. The 2010 and 2011 assessments didn’t support the statements the DHS made publically about fusion centers. The DHS said that the fusion centers are one of the centerpieces of the American counterterrorism strategy and “a major force multiplier in the counterterrorism enterprise”. The assessments indicated that that statement was just not true. Fusion centers in fact produced irrelevant, useless, or inappropriate information; if any information at all.
After examining the reports, the subcommittee found that there was no information found that would reveal or interrupt a planned terrorist attack. The information that was found was that almost 1/3 of reports weren’t published for the DHS or the intelligence committee’s use because they were of no use or they were on the borderline of violating guidelines set to protect civil liberties and/or Privacy Act protections. During the 2009 DHS review, reporting was slowed for months because DHS would try to cover for individuals who may be in violation of the Privacy Act. This in turned created a huge backlog, to which by the time the intelligence committee received the information, the information was considered no good. Most of the reports were about criminal activity, not terrorists or potential terrorist activity. Some of the terrorist activity that was reported came from the media, and some of the information reported about terrorists seemed to be a copy of the information shared with the NCTC. The subcommittee also examined the management of the reporting process. They learned that the DHS requires only 1 week of training for personnel to be qualified to report sensitive information. They also discovered that there were no consequences for individuals who authorized useless, and possible illegal reports.
The fusions centers are funded by the DHS through the Homeland Security Grant Program, and funds are administered by FEMA. From 2003 to 2011, FEMA has given an estimated range of 289 million to 1.4 billion of taxpayer dollars to fusion centers. Nobody monitored the funds and how they were spent. An investigation was done on 5 fusion centers and none of them had the basic essentials to operate effectively. They did however; find that they all had flat screen televisions, SUVs’, undetectable button cameras, tracking devices, and other surveillance items that had nothing to do with fusion centers’ ability to function. The DHS told the subcommittee that FEMA allowed the purchases because they were consistent with the rules and guidelines for purchase. The DHS gave no explanation for why no basic essential equipment was purchased. This part of the investigation was done to see if fusion centers were worthy of Federal support. Even though the Bush Administration provided grants to fusion centers before the 2008 report, he did say that the Federal government won’t fund fusion centers on a permanent basis. These grants were to be used to get them up and started.
Intelligence Systems Operating Policies (28 CFR Part 23)
Intelligence Systems Operating Policies (28 CFR Part 23)
Training and Technical Assistance Program
28 Code of Federal Regulations Part 23 (28 CFR Part 23): Is a federal guideline for law enforcement agencies that operate federally funded, multijurisdictional criminal intelligence systems. 28 CFR Part 23 provides guidance for law enforcement agencies on how to operate criminal intelligence information systems effectively while protecting individuals’ privacy and constitutional rights during the collection, storage, and dissemination of criminal intelligence information.
The fusion centers are state and local entities that receive federal funding, but the Federal government does not have the authority to influence the mission of individual fusion centers. So, fusion centers are given money for a specified job; but don’t necessarily have to perform that job as detailed. The DHS currently provides millions of Federal grant money to support fusion centers. The DHS gives general guidelines, training, and technology, but doesn’t detail how to use it to operate fusion centers effectively for the purpose of antiterrorism. Because of the inefficiency to gather and share early intelligence of terrorists, U.S. wasn’t able to neither anticipate nor prepare for the 9/11 attacks. In other words; U.S. got caught slipping and the efforts at that time to detect and prevent terrorism failed. Thus Congress initiated reform, where fusion centers were championed to be the key in being able to gather and share terrorists and possible terrorist activity. The DHS was made the Federal partner for fusion centers. With that being said, some fusion centers have other missions besides a counterterrorism mission. The Obama Administration supports fusion centers for the purpose of counterterrorism. It seems that some members of the administration has deterred from the mission of fusion centers. They have shifted their mission to other issues such as local and state criminal activity, disaster recovery, and to no counterterrorism whatsoever. In September of 2009, DHS secretary Napolitano told the Senate that fusion centers, “work beyond counterterrorism”; and are used in a variety of ways.
The fusion centers have had success stories as well. Here are some positive aspects fusion centers have on the U.S. since they have been established. In 08/07 the DHS assisted a Florida fusion center in the indictment of two Egyptian nationals in Florida. They were found with explosives during a traffic stop. They were charged with transporting explosive without a permit. One of them was also charged with building and using an explosive device. In 01/08, multiple fusion centers prevented an attack similar to the Virginia Tech attack. A man pled guilty to 5 counts of transmitting in interstate commerce and communications threatening to injure the person of another. In 09/09 a fusion center in Colorado gave analytical support to the Denver FBI in the Najibullah Zazi case. In 03/10, the same fusion center in Colorado was able to assist in the detainment of a woman connected to known terrorists. In 06/2011 again, the fusion center in Colorado aided in the arrest of an attempted bombing suspect. The local police department along with the FBI and other state officials were able to identify a person, arrested on non-terrorist charges, as also being a suspect in a couple of public locations where devices were found. In 03/12 multiple fusion centers worked together to provide information that led to an opening of a homicide case. The DHS along with fusion centers in Nevada and Texas shared information obtained from a prison inmate to open a new case on an unsolved murder. The information obtained from the prisoner was also used in counternarcotics efforts. It is clear that fusion centers do produce some positive results; but are the results conducive to the counterterrorism efforts they were design to do?
The report revealed how the officials of the DHS always spoke positively about fusion centers when in public in spite of all the mismanagement inside of fusion centers and their lack of counterterrorism efforts. The DHS never made it known that the information being reported was mostly useless, and only state and local criminal activity; basically unrelated to terrorism of any kind. Nevertheless, the DHS isn’t to share the blame for fusion center failure alone. Congress plays an intricate role as well. Since the time fusion centers were created by Congress in 2003, certain bipartisan committees and subcommittees have assumed jurisdiction over aspects of fusion centers. Therefore, when they overlook obvious problems within fusion centers, makes them just as responsible for the failure of fusion centers. When the members of Congress visit, participate in hearings, and interact with members of fusion centers and their staff, they oftentimes learn of the problems; but nothing is done to fix them.
The report done by the subcommittee clearly indicates that the DHS need to step their game up when it comes to fusion centers. Taxpayers won’t be pleased to know that millions to billions of their tax dollars are being invested into something that isn’t producing any worthwhile results. It looks like the cat isn’t away anymore, so the mice can’t play anymore. The subcommittee suggested some recommendations for improvement. They advised the DHS to basically reevaluate the reason why fusion centers were created. They advised them to familiarize themselves and the staff better with the rules and regulations. They were also told to close in and stop the misuse of taxpayer dollars, and improve ways to not violate people’s civil liberties. In addition, the DHS was instructed to perform and report regular assessments on fusion centers.
Based on the subcommittee’s report, the fusion centers were pretty much a very bad investment. It’s not at all unreasonable to attempt to correct the operations of the fusion centers since so much time and money was invested on the project. However, with all the debt the U.S. is in, 800million dollars a year is too much money to be wasting on projects that may or, may not work.