Intelligence Fusion Centers Emerge Across the U.S.

The contours of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy are expanding to include dozens of new “intelligence fusion centers” based around the country.

An intelligence fusion center is “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.”

A list of state and regional intelligence fusion centers (pdf) that have been established as of March 2006 was obtained by Secrecy News.

Last year, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security published guidelines for the operation of fusion centers dealing with law enforcement intelligence.

See “Fusion Center Guidelines: Developing and Sharing Information and Intelligence in a New World,” July 2005 (1.8 MB PDF).

So far, the fusion centers have not been an unqualified success. State officials express growing unhappiness with the contribution of federal intelligence agencies, according to a new survey (pdf) from the National Governors Association:

“Sixty percent of responding state homeland security directors are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the specificity of the intelligence they receive from the federal government. An additional 55 percent are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the actionable quality of the intelligence they receive from the federal government.”

“These numbers represent a sharp increase from the combined dissatisfied/somewhat dissatisfied percentages from the previous year,” according to the April 5 NGA survey.

The fusion centers are one aspect of a broader effort to promote sharing of intelligence information within the government.

The Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (section 1016) called for the creation of an Information Sharing Environment (ISE), which is defined as “an approach that facilitates the sharing of terrorism information, which approach may include any methods determined necessary.”

This too is a work in progress, at best, that remains far from achieving its objective.

“More than 4 years after September 11, the nation still lacks the government-wide policies and processes that Congress called for to provide a framework for guiding and integrating the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information critical to protecting our homeland,” the Government Accountability Office stated in a report (pdf) published last week.

Selected resources on the ISE are available here.

It should be noted that “information sharing” in this context does not extend to public disclosure of government information. To the contrary, information sharing policies may even create new barriers to public access through the use of non-disclosure agreements and similar devices.

No Responses to “Intelligence Fusion Centers Emerge Across the U.S.”

  1. Rus April 26, 2006 at 12:13 AM #

    Is this a tipping point for something important–or just fertile ground for one?

  2. Allen Thomson April 26, 2006 at 9:36 PM #

    It’s hard to know how this will come out, though history doesn’t encourage much optimism.

    Of secrecy relevance, I think a sign of progress would be to establish a common access level and list — maybe Confidential — for everybody, everywhere in DHS and related agencies with no questions asked about sharing information with anybody on the list. Failing to share information should be the default sin, rather than the opposite.

    Also, organizations producing information at higher classifications should be obliged to push as much down to the common level as soon as possible. I’ve taken part in several such exercises while in the government, and can testify that it generally isn’t all that hard to capture the essence of Top Secret RUFF ZARF UMBRA GAMMA ETC. documents in material meant to be shared with those holding lower clearances.

    Similarly, there should be single-point-of-contact authorities in the centers who could authorize release of Confidential information to whomever seemed appropriate: small-town cops, hospitals, fire-fighters or even (gasp!) the press. Maybe there could be a similar DHS official in Washington who could unilaterally and immediately declassify any relevant information.

  3. ICR September 4, 2010 at 2:24 PM #

    Allen, I believe your opinion stems from a lack of understanding about the classification system and the need to maintain secrecy to accomplish information operations.

    Before I go any further, I should point out that intelligence organizations never “produce information”. They collect information and produce intelligence.

    Secrets are required to be kept compartmentalized because nobody can possibly grasp the depth of importance behind each issue. The amount of intelligence data is unfathomable.

    At the “top” there are a few people who are responsible for classifying each piece of intelligence data. This provides centralized control of intelligence community operations and allows the entire community to move in a single direction even though they are comprised of thousands of individuals. If you gave control to declassify documents to many individuals control would be lost.

    If you don’t believe that, consider what happened recently with the army intel analyst and wikileaks. Perhaps that information seems, on the surface to be of imperative interest to the American people, but the American people aren’t trained analysts. Foreign governments, however, do have analysts standing by. When information like that is released, they go to work producing intelligence reports on our way of waging war. When they understand that, they can figure out how to counter it.

    Releasing our intelligence prematurely can cost lives. Lives I’d rather were not lost.

  4. Slow Motion May 4, 2011 at 1:17 AM #

    I agree with ICR. Just because someone has a clearance doesn’t mean they can, should, or will see information/intelligence if their position does not require them to. Even though you may think someone sees ‘everything’ because they have a Top Secret clearance, they may not even see the same material that someone with a Secret clearance. Although if they really needed too, they could probably see the intelligence package with more information because depending on its release classification certain information/intelligence will be omitted or included. Information seen on Secure Internet Protocols may include things one may not see on a Centcom Regional Intelligence Exchange System.