NEWS

DHS Official Outlines Federal Support to State-based Fusion Centers

By Matthew Harwood

During a speech yesterday, a high-level official from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explained how his office will support the nation's rapidly expanding network of state-based intelligence fusion centers created to share information across all levels of government to help prevent terrorist attacks.

"We are committed to elevating and enhancing federal support to fusion centers," said Bart R. Johnson, acting under secretary for Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) at DHS, during a speech at the National Homeland Defense Foundation Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Since the attacks of 9-11, 72 recognized state-based intelligence fusion centers have been established across the United States. Fusion centers bring together law enforcement and intelligence personnel from state, local, and federal government to collect, analyze, vet, and disseminate intelligence to first responders on the ground  to disrupt terrorist or criminal activity. Critics, however, say fusion centers have violated politically active citizens' civil rights. Some have gone as far to call them the beginnings of a police state.

Johnson told the audience that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has tasked his Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) "to be the focal point—the one-stop shop, if you will—for state, local and tribal governments to come to for information and intelligence on homeland security threats."

According to Johnson, I&A is an informational middleman between the federal government and state, local, and tribal governments. His office analyzes and moves homeland security intelligence down to state, local, and tribal governments through fusion centers but also uses fusion centers to send homeland security intelligence up to federal partners, including the intelligence community.

Seizing on the location of his speech and current events, Johnson described how Colorado's fusion center, the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), played an important role in a recent domestic terrorism case.

"More recently, in the Najibullah Zazi case, the CIAC provided a considerable amount of support to the Denver FBI in the investigation and support of the field operations," he said. Zazi, an Afghanistan-born airport shuttle driver in Denver, has been arrested for allegedly conspiring to attack New York City with  hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs on the anniversary of 9-11.

Looking toward the future, Johnson outlined I&A's core priorities over the next few years.

To better facilitate information sharing, Johnson promised DHS will deploy personnel to all fusion centers while giving fusion centers access to the Homeland Security Data Network by the end of fiscal year 2010. Currently, I&A has 44 field representatives based in fusion centers nationwide.

I&A will also manage the newly created Joint Fusion Center-Program Management Office (JFC-PMO), which Napolitano tasked in October with coordinating how DHS' various components and other federal agencies will support fusion centers.

"We anticipate that all DHS components will have new or expanded roles in strengthening fusion centers and the national fusion center network," Johnson said.

I&A's under secretary also emphasized the Obama administration's commitment to the expansion and strengthening of the fusion center model. He noted two ways the administration has done so: Napolitano has pledged she will assist fusion centers to become "Centers of Analytic Excellence" and that the White House has prioritized fusion centers in his budget guidance.

While Johnson stressed that the federal government will continue to assist fusion centers, especially as a tough economy shreds state budgets, he described fusion centers as "fundamentally a grassroots effort." He noted that there's evidence state governments have taken it upon themselves to share information. Johnson said CIAC in Colorado and three other states—New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—have partnered to provide each other with monthly and yearly summaries of suspicious activity reports by law enforcement.

"This is an excellent example of horizontal information sharing," he said.

Towards the end of his speech, Johnson reaffirmed that fusion centers will respect the civil liberties of all U.S. citizens. He told the audience that the Department of Justice and DHS have provided civil liberty training and reference materials to state and tribal partners.

"This is an important priority for us, as we work toward a Nation whose people and values are secure," he said.


♦ Screenshot of the National Homeland Defense Foundation (NHDF) Web site

♦ Screenshot of the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) Web site

 

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