NEWS

Fusion Centers' Information Sharing Improves, DHS Watchdog Says

By Matthew Harwood

The assignment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) analysts to intelligence fusion centers has improved information sharing between the federal government and state and local counterparts, but technical hurdles remain, according to a review conducted by the agency's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

In interviews with fusion center personnel, the OIG found that DHS's deployment of 53 analysts was the primary reason why information sharing had improved. DHS has pledged to staff all 72 recognized state, regional, and urban area fusion centers with analysts by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2011.

Established on a large scale after 9-11, intelligence fusion centers have become a major part of the homeland security architecture. These centers bring together personnel from at least two agencies to collect, vet, and share information relating to criminal and terrorist threats.  In 2007, Congress passed the 9-11 Commission Act, which mandated that DHS support fusion centers, a process the department had already begun, according to the report. Of the 72 recognized fusion centers, 50 are state-based and 22 exist in urban areas.

Another reason behind the recent information sharing gains, according to the report, was "an extensive list" that DHS provided the centers describing what types of information it wants.

"As a result of improved information sharing, fusion centers have successfully collaborated with the department during numerous large-scale events and maintained situational awareness after attempted terrorist attacks or other incidents," according to the nearly 40-page report (.pdf). Some of these success stories include collaborations during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2008 and the President Obama's inauguration in 2009.

The report also notes that DHS is finally pushing down intelligence information without prodding, a long-standing complaint among fusion center personnel.

"Specifically, one fusion center director said that if the attempted bombing in Times Square had occurred 3 years ago, personnel at the fusion center would have to had to make calls to obtain information," reports the OIG. "Now, fusion centers no longer have to pull information, as DHS is proactive in pushing information to them."

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