Mission Creep at Counterterrorism "Fusion Centers"
Fusion centers are state-run, with funding help from the Department of Homeland Security. It’s all sort of ad hoc, but their purpose is to “fuse” federal, state, and local intelligence against terrorism. But—no surprise—they’re not doing much actual fusion, and they’re more commonly used for other purposes.
From a Congressional Research Service report dated June 6, 2007:
Fusion centers are state-created entities largely financed and staffed by the states, and there is no one “model” for how a center should be structured. State and local law enforcement and criminal intelligence seem to be at the core of many of the centers. Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach. While many of the centers have prevention of attacks as a high priority, little “true fusion,” or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps, and pro-active collection of intelligence against those gaps which could contribute to prevention is occurring. Some centers are collocated with local offices of federal entities, yet in the absence of a functioning intelligence cycle process, collocation alone does not constitute fusion.
The federal role in supporting fusion centers consists largely of providing financial assistance, the majority of which has flowed through the Homeland Security Grant Program; sponsoring security clearances; providing human resources; producing some fusion center guidance and training; and providing congressional authorization and appropriation of national foreign intelligence program resources, is well as oversight hearings. This report includes over 30 options for congressional consideration to clarify and potentially enhance the federal government’s relationship with fusion centers. One of the central options is the potential drafting of a formal national fusion center strategy that would outline, among other elements, the federal government’s clear expectations of fusion centers, its position on sustainment funding, metrics for assessing fusion center performance, and definition of what constitutes a “mature” fusion center.
Honestly, the report itself is kind of boring, even for this sort of thing. There’s an interesting section on proactive vs. reactive security (p. 25):
Most fusion centers respond to incoming requests, suspicious activity reports, and/or finished information/intelligence products. This approach largely relies on data points or analysis that are already identified as potentially problematic. As mentioned above, it could be argued that this approach will only identify unsophisticated criminals and terrorists. The 2007 Fort Dix plot may serve as a good example—would law enforcement have ever become aware of this plot if the would-be perpetrators hadn’t taken their jihad video to a video store to have it copied? While state homeland security and law enforcement officials appear to have reacted quickly and passed the information to the FBI, would they have ever been able to find would-be terrorists within their midst if those individuals avoided activities, criminal or otherwise, that might bring to light their plot?
It is unclear if a single fusion center has successfully adopted a truly proactive prevention approach to information analysis and sharing.
Here’s another article on the topic.