Fusion data-sharing centers are ineffective: Senate report


U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies during a hearing before House Judiciary Committee July 19, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on "Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security."


Alex Wong

A Senate investigation found on Tuesday the Department of Homeland Security's counter-terrorism data sharing, billion-dollar taxpayer funded "fusion centers" are, in no uncertain terms, ineffective.

There are over 70 fusion centers across America - centers that are meant to share information from local, state and federal intelligence agencies.

But according to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (see the full report here) these centers often produced information that was basically useless.

Here are a few incredibly unequivocal excerpts form the report:

... fusion centers forwarded 'intelligence' of uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.

The Subcommittee investigation also found that DHS officials’ public claims about fusion centers were not always accurate. For instance, DHS officials asserted that some fusion centers existed when they did not. At times, DHS officials overstated fusion centers’ “success stories.” At other times, DHS officials failed to disclose or acknowledge non-public evaluations highlighting a host of problems at fusion centers and in DHS’ own operations.

In addition, the bipartisan investigation found fusion centers had "not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts."

According to Government Executive, the Department of Homeland Security's Secretary Janet Napolitano told the US Senate in Sept. 2011 that “seventy-two recognized fusion centers serve as focal points for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information among the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial and private sector partners.”

The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize winning Dana Priest, along with William A. Arkin, conducted an extensive investigation into the overwrought intelligence industry last year. They called it Top Secret America.

In their investigations they found evidence that The Department of Homeland Security "does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers." Estimates vary between $289 million and $1.4 billion.

And if all this damning evidence wasn't enough, the report also found that fusion centers can sometimes provide inaccurate information that may obstruct anti-terrorism efforts.

For example, when gunman Jared Loughneon shot dead 6 people and injured 13 others, including Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center provided false information that, the report states, "could actually hinder anti-terrorism and law enforcement efforts." 

Mike Sena, President of the advocacy group the National Fusion Center Association, told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the report was "unfair." He said fusion centers had provided data that led to “actionable intelligence” and federal investigations.