Fusion Centers' Mission Failure?

By Matthew Harwood

State fusion centers, a collaborative effort among local and state entities to prevent future terrorist attacks, have drifted from their original intent, says a new government report.

In a 117 page report, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, discovered fusion centers no longer concentrate exclusively on terrorism while officials said the myriad problems they face put the centers' long-term sustainability into question.

Via the Associated Press:

Of the 43 "fusion centers" already established, only two focus exclusively on preventing terrorism, the Government Accountability Office found in a national survey obtained by The Associated Press. Center directors complain that they were hampered by lack of guidance from Washington and they were flooded by often redundant information from multiple computer systems.

The original concept behind fusion centers was to coordinate resources, expertise and information of intelligence agencies so the country could detect and prevent terrorist acts. The concept has been widely embraced, particularly by the Sept. 11 commission, and the federal government has provided $130 million to help get them off the ground. But until recently, there were no guidelines for setting up the centers and as a result, the information shared and how it is used varies.

According to interviews conducted by the GAO, fusion center officials identified many problems that hamper their activities. Although the FBI and the Department of Justice have provided access to their information systems, many officials said that they could neither enter nor manage the systems. They also complained that many of their analysts had a hard time obtaining the necessary security clearances to do their jobs. Furthermore, a majority of fusion centers say they have a hard time training their analysts, while 11 officials called on the government to provide training guidance so that all analysts have similar training.

Funding is another problem. According to the GAO report:

[T]he federal government has not clearly articulated the long-term role it expects to play in sustaining fusion centers. It is critical for center management to know whether to expect continued federal resources, such as personnel and grant funding, since the federal government, through the information sharing environment, expects to rely on a nationwide network of centers to facilitate information sharing with state and local governments.

The GAO recommended that the federal government determine what the long-term role of fusion centers will be and if it will provide resources to sustain them. The federal government, says the GAO, agreed with its recommendations.

POST SCRIPT: In the November issue of Security Management, Assistant Editor Joseph Straw reported that state fusion centers, aside from a handful of exceptions, had failed to integrate private sector owner-operators of critical infrastructure into their team.


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