Fusion Centers Face “Insufficient” Terrorist Activity

Fusion centers are collaborative law enforcement and intelligence organizations that were established all over the country after 9/11 to share intelligence and counterterrorism information. But in the absence of a widespread domestic terrorist threat, they have not consistently demonstrated their value, according to a recent study.

“Fusion centers emerged almost spontaneously in response to a need by state and local law enforcement for useful and usable intelligence related to the evolving terrorist threat,” observed Milton Nenneman, a Sacramento police officer, in a master’s thesis (pdf) based on a survey of California fusion centers.

But the terrorist threat has turned out to be “insufficient” to justify or sustain the new fusion centers.

“There is, more often than not, insufficient purely ‘terrorist’ activity to support a multi-jurisdictional and multi-governmental level fusion center that exclusively processes terrorist activity,” Lt. Nenneman wrote.

As a result, “Fusion centers must consider analyzing or processing other criminal activity, in addition to terrorist activity, in order to maintain the skills and interest of the analysts, as well as the participation and data collection of the emergency responder community.”

Basic questions regarding who the fusion centers are supposed to serve and exactly what they are supposed to produce often lack satisfactory answers, Lt. Nenneman reported.

While there is little consensus about the precise mission or function of fusion centers, which vary widely, “the majority of fusion centers operate exclusively in an analytical capacity rather than as having any response or operational capacity.”

“It would seem prudent to make a concerted effort to seek out the emergency responder administrators and elected officials to given them regular threat assessments and situational awareness briefings to demonstrate the value and capability of the unit,” he suggested.

See “An Examination of State and Local Fusion Centers and Data Collection Methods” by Milton W. Nenneman, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2008.

Related issues were examined by the Congressional Research Service in “Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress” (pdf), updated January 18, 2008.

See also “Homeland Security: Federal Efforts Are Helping to Alleviate Some Challenges Encountered by State and Local Information Fusion Centers” (pdf), Government Accountability Office Report No. GAO-08-35, October 2007.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently won disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act of records documenting federal efforts to curtail public disclosure of fusion center information in the state of Virginia.

No Responses to “Fusion Centers Face “Insufficient” Terrorist Activity”

  1. Cant be fooled June 3, 2008 at 11:40 PM #

    To be surprised by this information, you would have to assume that the creation of these fusion centers really was for thwarting terrorist activity to begin with. That was the REASON used (thanks to 9/11) to allow their construction. Their PURPOSE is to accumulate data on all US citizens, using the most compartmentalized and secret methods possible, without regard to any real terrorist activities whatsoever. They have taken an “all crimes” and “all hazards” approach to allow surveillance methods to be used, that would not be possible or legal, if performed by a police department directly. They are nothing more than cleverly created “shields” to hide that which would not survive the light of open judicial scrutiny.

  2. Reason for concern...and for reason June 4, 2008 at 1:54 PM #

    Seems to be a basis of oversimplification and core ignorance at work from many observers. Although one must question and be aware of such systems…what data…how such data is used, etc…certain facts remain:

    The idea of fusion is predicated on the reality that many public data items are fragmented across 100′s or 1000′s of public information systems. To piece together “crime” activities and “hazard” activities into a common view in order to recognize larger patterns and threats is necessary due to a failing of integration between these disparate systems. These bits and pieces of public data can be very informative about patterns of criminal behavior that could also be, potentially, part and parcel of terrorist activity.

    Bear in mind, that police reports on “crimes” and “hazards” are collected (indeed have always been collected) by the requirements of law and public accountability. Most states have public information laws that REQUIRE police to document their activities, especially if it involves contact with a citizen.

    LE have always shared this information, on an “as needed” basis – - but “need to know” and “need to know who knows” are two different issues. Fusion centers, in part, seek to solve these gaps in information sharing.

    This need does not (or should not), however, circumvent the need for policy and procedure on the operation of these systems, adequate security and privacy controls for users and controls on these systems, and a process (transparent) that allows for auditing and the redress of inaccurate data, records or dissemination of said data.

    All said, the balancing act needs to be applied, and clearly these systems have not always followed the aforementioned “best practices”…and by means of said obfuscation they will only attract fear and criticism from the public at-large.

    The paranoia, on the other hand, that these centers are for collecting information on citizens is dubious – - ChoicePoint, Lexus-Nexus and others have already taken control of this country’s citizens privacy and wrapped it in a stranglehold of commerce and finance. Where there is a bottom-line for profit, it will always exceed the greed and zeal of the public sector.

  3. Robert Olcott July 23, 2008 at 7:27 AM #

    Abuses of data mining occurred years ago. The NH Senate President who chaired the state Data Processing Commission when 1,717 people were arrested protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant construction, had state employees working overtime, during the weekend, and he and the governor knew by Monday morning which of the 1,717 arrestees were in receipt of unemployment benefits, public assistance, etc., and all forfeited a portion of their benefits. No one in receipt of benefits should be permitted to petition their government for a redress of grievances … even though the federal funds that were used to upgrade hard+software prohibit certain uses. But if your state senate president is a former military intelligence officer ….