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CRS Report: Fusion Centers

Authors: Todd Masse, Siobhan O'Neil, and John Rollins
July 6, 2007

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Summary:


Although elements of the information and intelligence fusion function were conducted prior to 9/11, often at state police criminal intelligence bureaus, the events of 9/11 provided the primary catalyst for the formal establishment of more than 40 state, local, and regional fusion centers across the country. Currently, a number of bills pending before Congress, including S. 4, H.R. 1, S. 1644, and H.R. 2638, have elements that address fusion centers. The value proposition for fusion centers is that by integrating various streams of information and intelligence, including that flowing from the federal government, state, local, and tribal governments, as well as the private sector, a more accurate picture of risks to people, economic infrastructure, and communities can be developed and translated into protective action. The ultimate goal of fusion is to prevent manmade (terrorist) attacks and to respond to natural disasters and manmade threats quickly and efficiently should they occur. As recipients of federal government-provided national intelligence, another goal of fusion centers is to model how events inimical to U.S. interests overseas may be manifested in their communities, and align protective resources accordingly. There are several risks to the fusion center concept -- including potential privacy and civil liberties violations, and the possible inability of fusion centers to demonstrate utility in the absence of future terrorist attacks, particularly during periods of relative state fiscal austerity. Fusion centers are state-created entities largely financed and staffed by the states, and there is no one "model" for how a center should be structured. State and local law enforcement and criminal intelligence seem to be at the core of many of the centers. Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach. While many of the centers have prevention of attacks as a high priority, little "true fusion," or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps, and pro-active collection of intelligence against
those gaps which could contribute to prevention is occurring. Some centers are collocated with local offices of federal entities, yet in the absence of a functioning intelligence cycle process, collocation alone does not constitute fusion. The federal role in supporting fusion centers consists largely of providing financial assistance, the majority of which has flowed through the Homeland Security Grant Program; sponsoring security clearances; providing human resources; producing some fusion center guidance and training; and providing congressional authorization and appropriation of national foreign intelligence program resources,
as well as oversight hearings. This report includes over 30 options for congressional consideration to clarify and potentially enhance the federal government's relationship with fusion centers. One of the central options is the potential drafting of a formal national fusion center strategy that would outline, among other elements, the federal government's clear expectations of fusion centers, its position on sustainment funding, metrics for assessing fusion center performance, and definition of what
constitutes a "mature" fusion center. This report will be updated.

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