Senate Report Blasts the Government's Fusion Centers as Useless
Oct. 3, 2012
This is from an official report from the U.S. Senate.
FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR AND INVOLVEMENT IN STATE AND LOCAL FUSION CENTERS MAJORITY AND MINORITY STAFF REPORT PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE October 3,
The Subcommittee investigation found that DHS-assigned detailees to the fusion centers forwarded "intelligence" of uneven quality -- oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism. Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead this initiative. A bipartisan investigation by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found, however, that DHS' work with those state and local fusion centers has not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts.
The Subcommittee investigation also found that DHS officials' public claims about fusion centers were not always accurate. For instance, DHS officials asserted that some fusion centers existed when they did not. At times, DHS officials overstated fusion centers' "success stories." At other times, DHS officials failed to disclose or acknowledge non-public evaluations highlighting a host of problems at fusion centers and in DHS' own operations.
Since 2003, over 70 state and local fusion centers, supported in part with federal funds, have been created or expanded in part to strengthen U.S. intelligence capabilities, particularly to detect, disrupt, and respond to domestic terrorist activities. DHS' support for and involvement with these state and local fusion centers has, from the beginning, centered on their professed ability to strengthen federal counterterrorism efforts.
Under the leadership of Senator Coburn, Ranking Subcommittee Member, the
Subcommittee has spent two years examining federal support of fusion centers and evaluating the resulting counterterrorism intelligence. The Subcommittee's investigative efforts included interviewing dozens of current and former Federal, state and local officials, reviewing more than a year's worth of intelligence reporting from centers, conducting a nationwide survey of fusion
centers, and examining thousands of pages of financial records and grant documentation. The investigation identified problems with nearly every significant aspect of DHS' involvement with fusion centers. The Subcommittee investigation also determined that senior DHS officials were aware of the problems hampering effective counterterrorism work by the fusion centers, but did not always inform Congress of the issues, nor ensure the problems were fixed in a timely manner.
Regarding the centers themselves, the Subcommittee investigation learned that a 2010 assessment of state and local fusion centers conducted at the request of DHS found widespread deficiencies in the centers' basic counterterrorism information-sharing capabilities. DHS did not share that report with Congress or discuss its findings publicly. When the Subcommittee requested the assessment as part of its investigation, DHS at first denied it existed, then disputed whether it could be shared with Congress, before ultimately providing a copy. In 2011, DHS conducted its own, less rigorous assessment of fusion centers. While its resulting findings were more positive, they too indicated ongoing weaknesses at the fusion
The findings of both the 2010 and 2011 assessments contradict public statements by DHS officials who have described fusion centers as "one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy,"2 and "a major force multiplier in the counterterrorism enterprise." Despite reviewing 13 months' worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center
reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot. Instead, the investigation found:
The Subcommittee investigation found that the fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.
• Nearly a third of all reports -- 188 out of 610 -- were never published for use within DHS and by other members of the intelligence community, often because they lacked any useful information, or potentially violated department guidelines meant to protect Americans' civil liberties or Privacy Act protections.
• In 2009, DHS instituted a lengthy privacy and civil liberties review process which kept most of the troubling reports from being released outside of DHS; however, it also slowed reporting down by months, and DHS continued to store troubling intelligence reports from fusion centers on U.S. persons, possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.
• During the period reviewed, DHS intelligence reporting suffered from a significant backlog. At some points, hundreds of draft intelligence reports sat for months before DHS officials made a decision about whether to release them to the intelligence community. DHS published many reports so late -- typically months late, but sometimes nearly a year after they were filed -- that many were considered "obsolete" by the time they were released.
• Most reporting was not about terrorists or possible terrorist plots, but about criminal activity, largely arrest reports pertaining to drug, cash or human smuggling.
• Some terrorism-related "intelligence" reporting was based on older news releases or media accounts.
• Some terrorism-related reporting also appeared to be a slower-moving duplicate of information shared with the National Counter Terrorism Center through a much quicker process run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Terrorist Screening Center.
In interviews, current and former DHS officials involved in the fusion center reporting process stated they were aware that "a lot of [the reporting] was predominantly useless information," as one DHS official put it. A former reporting branch chief said that while he was sometimes proud of the intelligence his unit produced, "There were times when it was, 'what a
bunch of crap is coming through.'"
The Subcommittee investigation also examined DHS' management of the fusion center counterterrorism intelligence reporting process. The investigation discovered:
• DHS required only a week of training for intelligence officials before sending them to state and local fusion centers to report sensitive domestic intelligence, largely concerning U.S. persons.
• Officials who routinely authored useless or potentially illegal fusion center
intelligence reports faced no sanction or reprimand.