In the aftermath of the information sharing failures leading to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field, States and localities across the United States established what are known today as State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers (fusion centers). Collectively known as the National Network of Fusion Centers, many of these – now numbering 78 – fusion centers are still in their infancy.
Summary of Findings
• The Committee strongly believes that the National Network is a National asset that needs to realize its full potential to help secure the Homeland. Based on the Committee’s long history of oversight of the fusion centers’ development, it appears that the National Network is on a path of continued growth, improvement, and increasing value to both the Federal Government and the fusion centers’ individual customers. In addition to significant numbers of State and local partners represented, site visits revealed over 20 different Federal offices and agencies with personnel assigned across the 32 visited fusion centers, suggesting that fusion centers provide value to a wide variety of Federal agencies.
• The strength of the National Network lies in individual fusion centers’ unique expertise; their independence from the Federal Government; and their ability to leverage the State and local perspective on behalf of the National homeland security mission, which includes counterterrorism. Formally standardizing all aspects of fusion center operations would be disadvantageous. Over the past three years, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts have been targeted to assist fusion centers in developing plans, policies, and standard operating procedures. The goal has been to achieve capacity and standardized capability – namely the Critical Operational Capabilities – across the National Network, while allowing individually tailored processes for each fusion center. Although much work remains, these efforts appear to have improved consistency and standardization, and have helped to establish a common “language” across the National Network.
• The Federal Government should continue to facilitate and enable fusion center development in order to ensure that centers have the capacity necessary to fulfill their role as National mission partners. This must include continued improvements in information sharing. However, State and local stakeholders, including the fusion centers themselves, must take ownership and be a driving force behind much of the requisite growth moving forward. In order for the National Network to develop fully, a greater level of commonality and unified direction is necessary.
• The lack of a comprehensive State and locally-driven National Strategy for Fusion Centers reflecting the equities of fusion centers’ diverse stakeholders is a barrier to the National Network reaching its full potential. A comprehensive Federal Strategy for Fusion Centers is also necessary to explain how and why the Federal Government engages with fusion centers, guide Federal planning, serve as the foundation to develop additional performance and value-based metrics, and drive Federal resource allocation to fusion centers. The lack of these two strategies stands in the way of maximum efficiency, effectiveness, and the ability of the National Network to provide full benefit to the National homeland security mission.
• Thus far, fusion center metrics have primarily focused on measuring capacity and capability rather than “bang for the buck.” Due to the inherent difficulty in determining the success of prevention activities, stakeholders struggle with how to accurately, adequately, and tangibly measure the value of fusion centers to the National homeland security mission, and particularly the counterterrorism mission. Although great strides have been made, the current metrics – including the five performance measures included in the 2012 annual Fusion Center Assessment – are only a partial measure, and do not alone demonstrate overall success or failure of the National Network. Future metrics should reflect the values articulated in a comprehensive National Strategy for Fusion Centers and companion Federal Strategy for Fusion Centers. Further, there are not currently any tracking mechanisms in place to provide a complete picture, even quantitatively, of how fusion center-gathered information affects Federal terrorism or criminal cases or other homeland security mission areas. This is a significant gap that must be corrected in the short term in order to show the value of the National investment.
• Challenges remain across the National Network itself, particularly with the lack of individual fusion centers’ operational activities being universally inclusive of strategic counterterrorism threat analysis. Participation in the National Network should carry with it the expectation of National mission partnership, including the production of strategic counterterrorism threat analysis. Mature fusion centers utilize their analytic expertise, understanding of the nuances of their local environment, and unique information to look for potential ties to terrorism, in addition to fulfilling their other State, local, and homeland security missions. However, as a true National partner, fusion centers must fulfill their individual missions in a way that trains and requires analysts to view State and local crime with an eye toward strategic National counterterrorism and threat analysis.
The National Network of fusion centers: Where we have been and where we are going:
What’s wrong with fusion centers:
A new institution is emerging in American life: Fusion Centers. These state, local and regional institutions were originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Though they developed independently and remain quite different from one another, for many the scope of their mission has quickly expanded – with the support and encouragement of the federal government – to cover “all crimes and all hazards.” The types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector.
Fusion centers, raise very serious privacy issues at a time when new technology, government powers and zeal in the “war on terrorism” are combining to threaten Americans’ privacy at an unprecedented level.
Moreover, there are serious questions about whether data fusion is an effective means of preventing terrorism in the first place, and whether funding the development of these centers is a wise investment of finite public safety resources. Yet federal, state and local governments are increasing their investment in fusion centers without properly assessing whether they serve a necessary purpose.
There’s nothing wrong with the government seeking to do a better job of properly sharing legitimately acquired information about law enforcement investigations – indeed, that is one of the things that 9/11 tragically showed is very much needed.
But in a democracy, the collection and sharing of intelligence information – especially information about American citizens and other residents – need to be carried out with the utmost care. That is because more and more, the amount of information available on each one of us is enough to assemble a very detailed portrait of our lives. And because security agencies are moving toward using such portraits to profile how “suspicious” we look.
New institutions like fusion centers must be planned in a public, open manner, and their implications for privacy and other key values carefully thought out and debated. And like any powerful institution in a democracy, they must be constructed in a carefully bounded and limited manner with sufficient checks and balances to prevent abuse.
Unfortunately, the fusion centers have not conformed to these vital requirements.
Since no two fusion centers are alike, it is difficult to make generalized statements about them. Clearly not all fusion centers are engaging in improper intelligence activities and not all fusion center operations raise civil liberties or privacy concerns. But some do, and the lack of a proper legal framework to regulate their activities is troublesome. This report is intended to serve as a primer that explains what fusion centers are, and how and why they were created. It details potential problems fusion centers present to the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans, including:
- Ambiguous Lines of Authority. The participation of agencies from multiple jurisdictions in fusion centers 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.”
- Private Sector Participation. Fusion centers are incorporating private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, breaking down the arm’s length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies, and increasing the risk of a data breach.
- Military Participation. Fusion centers are involving military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
- Data Fusion = Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage whole sale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
- Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are hobbled by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt.
The lack of proper legal limits on the new fusion centers not only threatens to undermine fundamental American values, but also threatens to turn them into wasteful and misdirected bureaucracies that, like our federal security agencies before 9/11, won’t succeed in their ultimate mission of stopping terrorism and other crime.
The information in this report provides a starting point from which individuals can begin to ask informed questions about the nature and scope of intelligence programs being conducted in their communities. The report concludes with a list of recommendations for Congress and state legislatures.
Fusion Center update (2008)