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A fusion center is an intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination state or major urban area center, which is owned by state, local, and territorial law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security entities, many of which were jointly created between 2003 and 2007 under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice.

They are designed to promote information sharing at the federal level between agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice, and state, local, and tribal law enforcement. As of February 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognized 79 fusion centers.[1] Fusion centers may also be affiliated with an Emergency Operations Center that responds in the event of a disaster.

The National Network of Fusion Centers was established after the September 11 attacks to provide a focal point for successful collaboration across jurisdictions and sectors to effectively and efficiently detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. It is a decentralized, distributed, self-organizing national asset composed of state and major urban area fusion centers and their respective nodes within each center’s area of responsibility (AoR). This composition enables the National Network to meet local needs, while providing value information to understand the national landscape of threats and criminal activity.

The fusion process is an overarching method of managing the flow of information and intelligence across levels and sectors of government to integrate information for analysis.[1] That is, the process relies on the active involvement of state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies—and sometimes on non-law enforcement agencies (e.g., private sector)—to provide the input of raw information for intelligence analysis. As the array of diverse information sources increases, there will be more accurate and robust analysis that can be disseminated as intelligence.

A report by the House Homeland Security Committee titled “Advancing the Homeland Security Information Sharing Environment: A Review of the National Network of Fusion Centers” that was published in November 2017 had overwhelming amounts of positive feedback on the accomplishments and improvement of the network since their last review in 2013, in addition to several recommendations for future improvement in operations and collaboration. It highlights in particular the strides federal partners, namely the Department of Homeland Security, and Fusion Centers have made in sharing critical information and data across several platforms. The chairman of the committee U.S. Representative Michael McCaul was quoted in the report as stating:

Fusion centers are a key element of our homeland security because they improve partnerships at the state, local, and federal levels and help ensure better coordination of vital counterterrorism information. As threats to our homeland continue to evolve, we must take the necessary steps to mitigate gaps in threat-sharing and reporting. This latest report includes 24 recommendations that promote the sustained growth of the National Network of fusion centers and more fully integrate front-line law enforcement, first responders, and our intelligence community, contributing to a more robust national infrastructure to defend against the threat landscape.[2]

Contents

Fusion processEdit

The fusion process proactively seeks to identify perceived threats and stop them before they occur. A fusion center is typically organized by amalgamating representatives from different federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies into one physical location. However, some fusion centers gather information not only from government sources, but also from their partners in the private sector.[3][4] Each representative is intended to be a conduit of raw information from his or her agency, a representative who can infuse that agency-specific information into the collective body of information for analysis. Conversely, when the fusion center needs intelligence requirements the representative is the conduit back to the agency to communicate, monitor, and process the new information needs.[5] Similarly, the agency representative ensures that analytic products and threat information are directed back to one’s home agency for proper dissemination. According to the fusion center guidelines, a fusion center is defined as “a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and/or information to the center with the goal of maximizing the ability to detect, prevent, apprehend, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. The intelligence component of a fusion center focuses on the intelligence process, where information is collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and disseminated. Nontraditional collectors of intelligence, such as public safety entities and private sector organizations, possess important information that can be fused' with law enforcement data to provide meaningful information and intelligence about threats and criminal activity.”[6]

State and local police departments provide both space and resources for the majority of fusion centers. The analysts working there can be drawn from a range of agencies and organizations, including DHS, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, Coast Guard, National Guard, Highway Patrol, state-level Departments of Corrections, local police, and the private sector.[7] A number of fusion centers operate tip hotlines and also invite relevant information from public employees, such as sanitation workers or firefighters.[8]

The National Fusion Center AssociationEdit

The NFCA is an association that represents all of the fusion centers located across the country that make up the National Network. It is headed by an Executive board composed of a President, Vice President, Executive Director, Treasurer, Secretary, and two regional co-chairs that represent Fusion Centers from the North East, South East, Central, and West regions of the country. The mission of the NFCA is as follows:

"To represent the interests of state and major urban area fusion centers, as well as associated interests of states, tribal nations, and units of local government, in order to promote the development and sustainment of fusion centers to enhance public safety; encourage effective, efficient, ethical, lawful, and professional intelligence and information sharing; and prevent and reduce the harmful effects of crime and terrorism on victims, individuals, and communities."

Below are the overarching goals of the NFCA in their support of the National Network, and clearly define their existence as an association.

  • Provide an independent and consolidated voice for state and major urban area fusion centers;
  • Maintain the focus of state, tribal, local, and federal governments on the needs of the fusion centers;
  • Represent fusion center concerns to the federal government through an education process;
  • Provide support for the development of effective fusion center policy for the nation's state and local government elected officials and tribal leaders;
  • Serve as a catalyst for the careful consideration and promotion of effective and efficient fusion center policies and practices;
  • Advocate for the commitment of adequate resources to support a national, integrated network of state and major urban area fusion centers; and
  • Coordinate between and among the different branches and levels of government and promote broad philosophical agreement.

The NFCA have their own website located at www.nfcausa.org, which contains contact information for each of the 79 Fusion centers, a tool to submit a Suspicious Activity Report, and general news on the works of Fusion Centers across the country.

NFCA Annual Training EventEdit

The NFCA hosts an annual training event in Alexandria Virginia. Over 700 fusion center employees, federal and local partners come together to share innovative ideas and business practices for the purpose of enhancing fusion center capabilities and the National Network’s contribution to public safety. The conference agenda consists of numerous breakout sessions, presentations and briefings on several topics related to public safety challenges and the domestic terrorism threat picture. Experts from around the country provide outstanding, in-depth instruction on a wide variety of topics to included cyber security, domestic terrorism, federal partner collaboration, private sector engagement, and social media monitoring. The event will also feature several keynote speakers from Federal Entities. Speakers in the past have included FBI director James Comey, former acting Secretary of DHS Elaine Duke, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

History of the Fusion Center ConceptEdit

The fusion center concept was created as a result of the September 11 report, in an attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to create better communication and cooperation between state, local, and territorial law enforcement with federal law enforcement entities including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and several others. With domestic and foreign threats constantly changing, the strategies used by each Fusion Center have to be defined, and altered, which calls for a specific plans and guidelines as to how to best protect the homeland. The National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding, as well as The National Strategy for Information Sharing are two documents that influenced the workings of the Fusion Center network, and defined a broad strategy for a more proactive information sharing network. The NFCA alongside several other federal and local law enforcement associations formulated the "Baseline Capabilities for State and Major Fusion Centers" as well as the "National Strategy for the National Network of Fusion Centers" are documents that defined a clear understanding of the role of Fusion Centers as well as time sensitive goals they should achieve. The National Strategy is constantly being developed as time passes to meet the needs of the changing environment of national security. Additionally, a "Cyber Appendix" was added to the Baseline Capabilities document, that defines the roles and operational capabilites of Fusion Centers to fight cyber crime that effects their areas of responsibility.

Success StoriesEdit

Due to the nature of their work, Fusion Centers have been key cogs in the response to of many of America’s most devastating tragedies. In the past several years, work done by Fusion Centers has resulted in several success stories where hundreds of lives were saved, and the damage has been mitigated on several operational levels.

Hurricane IrmaEdit

Hurricane Irma was hit several of the Islands off the coast of the U.S.A., including the Virgin Islands. A couple from Falls Church, Virginia had been trapped in their vacation home near St. John due to damage from the hurricane. They had no means to escape their island, no electricity, and a limited amount of water. After their daughter found a video that a pilot had taken from above the island, she noticed the landslide that had trapped her parents in their home. She reached out to congressmen, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Red Cross, but the resources were not available to provide any assistance. Executive Director of the National Fusion Center Association Glenn Archer was alerted of the family's situation, and reached out to the Fusion Center in the Virgin Islands, and after working through the night the Director of the Virgin Islands Fusion Center was able to locate the couple and deploy an FBI SWAT team to their location. The operation was successful, and the couple was able to return to Virginia and be reunited with their daughter. At the time of the rescue, the couple had been trapped for 7 days, and had run out of potable water.[9]

Sex Trafficking ArrestEdit

As a result of information sharing by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange (CFIX), Louisiana State Analytic and Fusion Exchange (LA-SAFE), and the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center (OCIAC), three adults were arrested in June 2014 on charges of sex trafficking, an insidious form of human trafficking that has the potential to victimize an estimated 300,000 at-risk children each year in the United States alone.

Extensive information sharing, leading to arrests and convictions, began when Florida’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI), a regional task force including representatives from ICE and FBI, initiated an investigation involving a vulnerable runaway minor from Orlando. According to investigative reports, three adults recruited the minor to work as a prostitute in five different US cities – three in Louisiana and two in California. The MBI notified the CFIX about the sex trafficking investigation, and, because the case crossed state lines, the CFIX subsequently teamed up with the LA-SAFE and OCIAC to support the MBI investigation.

Working across the National Network of Fusion Centers, the CFIX, LA-SAFE and the OCIAC leveraged their vast information access and sharing capabilities to quickly obtain and disseminate key investigative information to MBI and local law enforcement partners. Through the extensive collaboration between fusion centers and law enforcement, all three suspects were identified and convicted, with the ringleader receiving a 30 year sentence in February 2015. These results demonstrate the indispensable role of fusion centers in supporting multi-state criminal investigations.

HHSC Report on National Network of Fusion CentersEdit

A report by the House Homeland Security Committee titled “Advancing the Homeland Security Information Sharing Environment: A Review of the National Network of Fusion Centers” that was published in November 2017 had overwhelming amounts of positive feedback on the accomplishments and improvement of the network since their last review in 2013, in addition to several recommendations for future improvement in operations and collaboration. Additionally, it addresses the new challenges that will arise in the form of different areas of crime, and how Fusion Centers should address those challenges so that they can continue to effectively analyze intelligence and distribute it to the necessary parties involved.

The report highlights in particular the strides federal partners, namely the Department of Homeland Security, and Fusion Centers have made in sharing critical information and data across several platforms. The report details that since the release of the Committee’s 2013 report, significant progress has been made in the overall maturity of the National Network of Fusion Centers. They state that many fusion centers have expanded capabilities to address all crimes and threats by recognizing that early indicators of terrorism often include criminal activity. The Committee claims they witnessed greater intra-network collaboration, including the exchange of best practices, collaboration on strategic products, and provision of support to other centers during major incidents. Additionally, they discuss how fusion centers are embracing a multidisciplinary approach to outreach programs to better integrate fire, emergency medical services, and the private sector. Finally, the Committee also received significant feedback on the value of the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Information Network to fusion center operations and the importance of continuing to update and expand the system to meet emerging needs.[1]

Common MisconceptionsEdit

There are often misconceptions about the function of fusion centers. The most common misconception is that the center consists a large room full of work stations where the staff are constantly responding to inquiries from officers, investigators, and agents. This vision is more accurately a watch center or an investigative support center—not an intelligence fusion center. Fusion Centers have the responsibility of proactively gathering intelligence, analyzing that information, and then disseminating it to their local, state and federal partners.

Another common misconception is that the fusion center is minimally staffed until there is some type of crisis whereupon representatives from different public safety agencies converge in staff workstations to manage the crisis. This staffing model more accurately describes an emergency operations center, not an intelligence fusion center. The fusion center is not an operational center but a support center driven by analysis.[5]

CriticismEdit

There are a number of documented criticisms of fusion centers, including relative ineffectiveness at counterterrorism activities, the potential to be used for secondary purposes unrelated to counterterrorism, and their links to violations of civil liberties of American citizens and others.[8] One such fusion center has been involved with spying on anti-war and peace activists as well as anarchists in Washington state.[10]

David Rittgers of the Cato Institute has noted:

a long line of fusion center and DHS reports labeling broad swaths of the public as a threat to national security. The North Texas Fusion System labeled Muslim lobbyists as a potential threat; a DHS analyst in Wisconsin thought both pro- and anti-abortion activists were worrisome; a Pennsylvania homeland security contractor watched environmental activists, Tea Party groups, and a Second Amendment rally; the Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a fusion center in Missouri thought that all third-party voters and Ron Paul supporters were a threat; and the Department of Homeland Security described half of the American political spectrum as "right wing extremists." [11]

A 2007 ACLU report raised concerns with four areas of fusion center aspects, the first of which was that they suffered from "ambiguous lines of authority", meaning that the fusion process "allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of 'policy shopping'." The ACLU was also concerned with the private sector and military participation in the surveillance of US citizens through these fusion centers. Finally, the ACLU report argued that fusion centers were likely to engage in poorly contained data mining because the "Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy" and that the centers were "hobbled by excessive secrecy".[12] An updated ACLU report in 2008 argued that the fusion centers were creating a "total surveillance society" in the US.[13] An ACLU spokesperson compared the fusion centers initiative with Operation TIPS because of the involvement of private Terrorism Liaison Officers.[14]

MIAC reportEdit

Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) made news in 2009 for targeting supporters of third party candidates, Ron Paul supporters, pro-life activists, and conspiracy theorists as potential militia members.[15] Anti-war activists and Islamic lobby groups were targeted in Texas, drawing criticism from the ACLU.[16]

According to the Department of Homeland Security:[17]

[T]he Privacy Office has identified a number of risks to privacy presented by the fusion center program:

  1. Justification for fusion centers
  2. Ambiguous Lines of Authority, Rules, and Oversight
  3. Participation of the Military and the Private Sector
  4. Data Mining
  5. Excessive Secrecy
  6. Inaccurate or incomplete information
  7. Mission Creep

Senate reportEdit

The United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report said:[18]

Despite reviewing 13 months' worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.

An example of useless intelligence highlighted by the committee was a report on a foreigner with an expired visa who had been caught speeding and shoplifting; his name was promptly added to the list of "known or appropriately suspected" terrorists. A reviewer of that report intimated: "I am actually stunned this report got as far as it did," because "the entire total knowledge about the subject" was that he "tried to steal a pair of shoes from Neiman Marcus" with everything else in the report being commentary. The reviewer concluded: "I have no idea what value this would be adding to the IC [Intelligence Community]."[19]

Another example highlighted in the Senate report was entitled "Possible Drug Smuggling Activity". It detailed how two state wildlife officials saw two fishermen in a bass boat "operating suspiciously" in waters off the US–Mexico border. The fusion center report listed as suspicions activities the fact that the two suspects "avoided eye contact" and that their boat was low in the water, "as if it were laden with cargo". The DHS reviewer wrote that: "The fact that some guys were hanging out in a boat where people normally do not fish MIGHT be an indicator of something abnormal, but does not reach the threshold of something we should be reporting," and "that this should never have been nominated for production, nor passed through three reviews."[20]

Yet another example was a California fusion center report on the Mongols Motorcycle Club's distribution of leaflets to its members instructing them how to behave when stopped by police. According to the Senate report, the leaflet suggested to the Club members that they should be courteous, control their emotions and, if drinking, have a designated driver. One supervisor eventually killed the fusion center report, noting that "There is nothing illegal or even remotely objectionable [described] in this report," and that "The advice given to the groups' members is protected by the First Amendment."[21]

Part of the problems identified by the Senate report is that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis imposed a quota of reports to be filed by the fusion centers, leading to diminished quality.[21] The Senate committee estimated that about $1.4 billion had been spent on the fusion centers.[19] It also estimated that:[19]

Of the 386 unclassified HIRs that DHS eventually published over the 13-month period reviewed by the Subcommittee investigation, a review found close to 300 of them had no discernable connection to terrorists, terrorist plots or threats.

Matthew Chandler, a spokesperson for the DHS, immediately denounced the Senate report in an interview with Fox News, in which he said that "In preparing the report, the committee refused to review relevant data, including important intelligence information pertinent to their findings," and that the "report fundamentally misunderstands the role of the federal government in supporting fusion centers and overlooks the significant benefits of this relationship to both state and local law enforcement and the federal government."[19]

Interviewed about the Senate report, Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, stated that: "Since 9/11, the growth of state and local fusion centers has been exponential and regrettably in many instances it has produced an ill-planned mishmash rather than a true national system that is well-integrated with existing organizations like the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces."[20]

2009 Virginia terrorism threat assessmentEdit

In early April 2009, the Virginia Fusion Center came under criticism for publishing a terrorism threat assessment which stated that certain universities are potential hubs for terror related activity.[22] The report targeted historically black colleges and identified hacktivism as a form of terrorism.[23]

2011 Illinois fusion center finds water pump was "hacked"; the FBI disagreesEdit

A November 2011 report by the Illinois fusion center was criticized for alleging that Russia hacked and deliberately disabled a water pump of the municipal water system in Illinois. The Senate report writes: "Apparently aware of how important such an event could have been had it been real, DHS intelligence officials included the false allegations—stated as fact—in a daily intelligence briefing that went to Congress and the intelligence community." A subsequent FBI investigation found however that: "The only fact that they got right was that a water pump in a small Illinois water district had burned out."[18][24]

Washington State Fusion CenterEdit

A lawsuit alleges that a WSFC employee added members of the Port Militarization Resistance to the domestic terrorists list on unsubstantiated grounds.[25][26]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Advancing the Homeland Security Information Sharing Environment: A Review of the National Network of Fusion Centers" (PDF). House Homeland Security Committee.    This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ "Committee Releases Report On the National Network of Fusion Centers and Information Sharing – House Committee on Homeland Security". House Committee on Homeland Security. November 6, 2017. 
  3. ^ Monahan, T. (2009). "The Murky World of 'Fusion Centres'" (pdf). Criminal Justice Matters. 75 (1): 20–21. doi:10.1080/09627250802699715. 
  4. ^ Harwood, M. "Smashing Intelligence Stovepipes". Security Management. Archived from the original on 2011-04-29. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  5. ^ a b Carter, D. L.; Carter, J. G. (2009). "The Intelligence Fusion Process for State, Local and Tribal Law Enforcement". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 36 (12): 1323–1339. doi:10.1177/0093854809345674. 
  6. ^ "Global Intelligence Working Group, 2005a, p. 8" (pdf). Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  7. ^ Monahan, T.; Regan, Priscilla M. (2012). "Zones of Opacity: Data Fusion in Post 9/11 Security Organizations" (pdf). Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 27 (3): 301–317. 
  8. ^ a b Monahan, T.; Palmer, N.A. (2009). "The Emerging Politics of DHS Fusion Centers" (pdf). Security Dialogue. 40 (6): 617–636. doi:10.1177/0967010609350314. 
  9. ^ "Va. couple stranded on St. John by Hurricane Irma surprised, rescued after 7 days". 
  10. ^ "Report on Fusion Centers". Democracynow.org. July 29, 2009.
  11. ^ Rittgers, David (February 2, 2011). "We're All Terrorists Now". Cato Institute. Archived from the original on 2011-04-15. 
  12. ^ "What's Wrong With Fusion Centers – Executive Summary". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 12 August 2017. 
  13. ^ ACLU Highlights Risk of “Fusion Centers”, The Progressive, www.progressive.org/mag/mc073008a.html
  14. ^ The New Snoops: Terrorism Liaison Officers, Some from Private Sector, The Progressive, www.progressive.org/mag/mc070208
  15. ^ Miller, Joshua Rhett. "'Fusion Centers' Expand Criteria to Identify Militia Members". Fox News. Archived from the original on December 4, 2009. Retrieved 2018-02-24. 
  16. ^ Wagley, John. "Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico". Security Management. Archived from the original on 2012-04-08. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  17. ^ Privacy Impact Assessment for the Department of Homeland Security State, Local, and Regional Fusion Center Initiative December 11, 2008 [1]
  18. ^ a b "Senate Report Says National Intelligence Fusion Centers Have Been Useless". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 12 August 2017. 
  19. ^ a b c d "Homeland Security gathers 'crap intelligence' and spies on Americans". Rt.com. Retrieved 12 August 2017. 
  20. ^ a b Investigations. "Homeland Security 'fusion' centers spy on citizens, produce 'shoddy' work, report says". Investigations.nbcnews.com. Retrieved 12 August 2017. 
  21. ^ a b Robert O'Harrow, Jr. "DHS 'fusion centers' portrayed as pools of ineptitude, civil liberties intrusions", The Washington Post, October 2, 2012.
  22. ^ "Fusion center declares nation's oldest universities possible terror threat". The Raw Story. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  23. ^ 2009 Virginia Terrorism threat assessment. Commonwealth of Virginia. Department of State Police. Virginia Fusion Center. March 2009.
  24. ^ Zetter, Kim (October 2, 2012). "DHS Issued False 'Water Pump Hack' Report; Called It a 'Success'". Wired. 
  25. ^ Moynihan, Colin (June 24, 2013). "Defendant Added to Protesters' Spying Suit". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ [2][dead link]

External linksEdit