DHS to Create New Office to Support Intelligence Fusion Centers

By Matthew Harwood

In the effort to get good intelligence into the hands of state and local law enforcement on the ground, homeland security chief Janet Napolitano told Congress yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security will establish a new office to support the nation's rapidly expanding network of fusion centers.

The Joint Fusion Center Program Management Office (JFC-PMO), according to Napolitano, "will ensure coordination across all DHS components toward the twin priorities of strengthening fusion centers and DHS intelligence products."

Across the nation, 72 state-based intelligence fusion centers have sprung up since 9-11, which combine federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to collect, analyze, and produce intelligence products relating to criminal and terrorist activity.

"These centers, established by state and local authorities themselves, are the primary way that DHS shares intelligence and analysis with our homeland security partners and are key tools for stakeholders at all levels of government to share information related to threats," she told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The JFC-PMO will have five major responsibilities to make fusion centers more effective, according to Napolitano.

It will survey state, local, and tribal law enforcement to get feedback on what information these "first preventers" need to do their job. The office will also develop a mechanism to gather, analyze, and share both national, regional, and local threat information up and down the intelligence network. Third, the office will coordinate with fusion centers to continuously ensure they get the appropriate personnel and resources from DHS. Fourth, the JFC-PMO will provide training and exercises to build solid relationships between fusion center personnel and promote a sense of common mission. Finally, the office will train fusion center personnel to respect the civil liberties of American citizens.

The JFC-PMO will be managed by DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), which was recently criticized this spring for issuing an intelligence report saying the election of President Barack Obama combined with an economic recession and returning war veterans could create a reinvigorated right-wing extremism movement reminiscent of the 1990s.

Conservatives and civil libertarians harshly criticized the report for casting suspicion on returning veterans and smearing conservative law-abiding citizens as paranoids and racists. Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, point to the murder of George Tiller and the shooting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to argue that the report was essentially accurate.

In response to the scandal, Napolitano retracted the right-wing extremism report, saying it was never meant for distribution.

Because of this and related scandals, civil liberty concerns appear to be high on DHS' list of talking points regarding fusion centers.

Last week, DHS' Bart R Johnson, acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, told the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment that I&A has partnered with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to provide training to all new and current fusion center analysts. Both DHS components have also teamed with the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs to create "a privacy and civil liberties training program to support all personnel at the fusion centers," he said.

For more on the evolution of fusion centers, see Assistant Editor Joseph Straw's October 2009 feature, "Fusion Centers Forge Ahead."

Photo of Janet Napolitano by The National Guard/Flickr


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