Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress
Although elements of the information and intelligence fusion function wereconducted prior to 9/11, often at state police criminal intelligence bureaus, the eventsof 9/11 provided the primary catalyst for the formal establishment of more than 40state, local, and regional fusion centers across the country.The value proposition for fusion centers is that by integrating various streamsof information and intelligence, including that flowing from the federal government,state, local, and tribal governments, as well as the private sector, a more accuratepicture of risks to people, economic infrastructure, and communities can bedeveloped and translated into protective action. The ultimate goal of fusion is toprevent manmade (terrorist) attacks and to respond to natural disasters and manmadethreats quickly and efficiently should they occur. As recipients of federalgovernment-provided national intelligence, another goal of fusion centers is to modelhow events inimical to U.S. interests overseas may be manifested in theircommunities, and align protective resources accordingly. There are several risks tothe 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 thestates, and there is no one “model” for how a center should be structured. State andlocal law enforcement and criminal intelligence seem to be at the core of many of thecenters. Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, fornumerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and evenbroader all-hazards approach. While many of the centers have prevention of attacksas a high priority, little “true fusion,” or analysis of disparate data sources,identification of intelligence gaps, and pro-active collection of intelligence againstthose gaps which could contribute to prevention is occurring. Some centers arecollocated with local offices of federal entities, yet in the absence of a functioningintelligence cycle process, collocation alone does not constitute fusion.The federal role in supporting fusion centers consists largely of providingfinancial assistance, the majority of which has flowed through the Homeland SecurityGrant Program; sponsoring security clearances; providing human resources;producing some fusion center guidance and training; and providing congressionalauthorization and appropriation of national foreign intelligence program resources,as well as oversight hearings. This report includes over 30 options for congressionalconsideration to clarify and potentially enhance the federal government’s relationshipwith fusion centers. One of the central options is the potential drafting of a formalnational fusion center strategy that would outline, among other elements, the federalgovernment’s clear expectations of fusion centers, its position on sustainmentfunding, metrics for assessing fusion center performance, and definition of whatconstitutes a “mature” fusion center. This report will be updated.