The assignment of DHS intelligence 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 inspector general.
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."
Room for improvement remains, however. The report found that state and urban fusion center personnel had to rely on using personal contacts to get information from DHS agency components like Customs and Border Protection or the Transportation Security Administration.
The OIG also discovered that unfinished intelligence products known as Homeland Intelligence Reports (HIRs) were not disseminated fast enough. "HIRs are used to share information quickly with state and local personnel on suspicious activities prior to being fully vetted," the report states, but notes an internal DHS "quarterly performance report on the fusion center support request process shows that 144 HIRs were overdue as of March 2010." Fusion center personnel also complained that DHS does not give them enough time to have their own intelligence analysts contribute to DHS intelligence products.
Technology problems also have interfered with the ability of fusion center personnel to share information. According to the OIG, the three IT systems DHS uses to share information are inadequate due to navigation problems, inability to search across multiple systems and DHS databases, and the lack of useful content. Instead, fusion center personnel have to rely on e-mail and phone calls for intelligence sharing and situational awareness.
"E-mail may meet fusion centers' need for situation awareness," the OIG report concludes, "however, collaboration across state, local, and federal partners to 'connect the dots' to prevent and deter threats remains a challenge without effective information sharing IT systems."
♦ Snapshot of report cover, Information Sharing With Fusion Centers Has Improved, but Information System Challenges Remain