More from the Senate Report on Fusion Centers
Oct. 11, 2012
A U.S. Senate subcommittee has conducted a two-year investigation of fusion centers. These centers collect information on U.S. citizens. They are run by states, but they are funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR AND INVOLVEMENT IN STATE AND LOCAL FUSION CENTERS. Here are highlights from the report, which is online here. The report does not include pagination.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Subcommittee immediately ran into several roadblocks in its review. First, DHS was unable to produce a complete and accurate tally of the expense of its support for fusion centers.
Indeed, for years it has struggled to identify not only what money it has spent or granted to enhance fusion centers, but also how many personnel it has detailed to the centers. Also, while DHS has made attempts to assess the centers' ability to operate, it has never evaluated the quality or impact of the centers' contributions to federal counterterrorism efforts using the 2006 criteria it specified.
Over a period of two years, the Subcommittee reviewed more than 80,000 pages of
documents, including reviews, audits, intelligence reports, emails, memoranda, grant applications, news accounts, and scholarly articles; conducted a nationwide survey of fusion centers; and interviewed over 50 current and former DHS officials, outside experts, and state and local officials.
On the first issue, the Subcommittee investigation found that DHS's involvement with fusion centers had not produced the results anticipated by statute, White House strategies and DHS's own 2006 plan. Specifically, DHS's involvement with fusion centers appeared not to have yielded timely, useful terrorism-related intelligence for the federal intelligence community.
In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that DHS has not had the proper policies, training, personnel or practices in place to responsibly and timely receive information from state and local fusion centers, and make it available to its own analysts and other federal agencies.
On the second issue, the Subcommittee investigation found that DHS did not adequately monitor the amount of funding it directed to support fusion centers; failed to conduct meaningful oversight of how state and local agencies spent grant funds DHS intended to support fusion centers; did not ensure the grants it made to fusion center projects were yielding the progress state and local officials promised; and did not attempt to determine whether the end product of its efforts and spending were commensurate with the level of its investment.
On the third issue, the Subcommittee investigation found that many fusion centers lacked either the capability or stated objective of contributing meaningfully to the federal counterterrorism mission. Many centers didn't consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism
Despite these problems, DHS officials have been consistent in their praise for fusion centers as counterterrorism tools when speaking to Congress and the American public. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has described them as "one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy,"20 and Caryn Wagner, DHS's top intelligence official, told Congress they are "a vital tool for strengthening homeland security."21 A May 2012 report from DHS stated that fusion centers "play a vital role in improving the Nation's ability to safeguard the Homeland."
But in internal assessments and interviews with the Subcommittee, knowledgeable
officials from DHS and the intelligence community have said that most fusion centers were not capable of effective intelligence-sharing work, whether it is receiving terrorism-related information, analyzing it, or sharing it with federal officials and others. They have also admitted that DHS's own practices have fallen well short of what is necessary for an effective intelligence
Meanwhile, Congress and two administrations have urged DHS to continue or even
expand its support of fusion centers, without providing sufficient oversight to ensure the intelligence from fusion centers is commensurate with the level of federal investment.
As a result, by its own estimates DHS has spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds. . . .
The federal government has also repeatedly stated, however, its expectation that fusion centers be capable of contributing to the federal counterterrorism mission. It is that expectation that has been used to justify the federal government's strong and growing support for fusion centers, from providing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant funds and dispatching
federal personnel, to installing data connectivity, and supplying secure equipment and facilities capable of handling classified information.
Unfortunately, despite a significant investment of resources and time, fusion centers today appear to be largely ineffective participants in the federal counterterrorism mission. Much of the blame lies with DHS, which has failed to adequately implement a fusion center program that would produce the results it promised. But significant responsibility for these failures also lies with Congress, which has repeatedly chosen to support and praise fusion center efforts, without providing the oversight and direction necessary to make sure those efforts were cost effective and useful.* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The report ends with a long list of suggested reforms, none of which will be implemented. The report did not call for the immediate de-funding of the fusion centers. In short, same old, same old, business as usual in Congress.