Friday, December 07, 2007

Fusion Centers: Status and Challenges

Just a relatively brief note on the new GAO report, which discusses the development of state fusion centers, along with the challenges they're facing.

First, a note on the current status of fusion centers:

Officials in 43 of the 58 fusion centers we contacted described their centers as operational as of September 2007. Specifically, officials in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and 7 local jurisdictions we contacted described their fusion center as operational, officials in 14 states and 1 local jurisdiction considered their centers to be in the planning or early stages of development, and 1 state (Idaho) did not have or plan to have a fusion center. In 6 states we contacted, there was more than one fusion center established.
The "all-hazards" focus has been maintained:
[O]fficials in 41 of the 43 operational centers we contacted said that their centers’ scopes of operations were broader than solely focusing on counterterrorism. For example, officials in 22 of the 43 operational centers described their centers’ scopes of operations as all crimes or all crimes and counterterrorism, and officials in 19 operational centers said that their scopes of operations included all hazards.
And it is particularly encouraging to hear that they're exploring the link between terrorism and precursor crimes:
Officials provided two primary explanations for why their fusion centers have adopted a broader focus than counterterrorism. The first explanation was because of the nexus, or link, of many crimes to terrorist-related activity. For example, officials at one fusion center said that they have an all-crimes focus because terrorism can be funded through a number of criminal acts, such as drugs, while another said that collecting information on all crimes often leads to terrorist or threat information because typically if there is terrorist-related activity there are other crimes involved as well.
As the CRS recently noted, it's important for fusion centers - which, it's important to remember, are always state or local entities - to have a close relationship with federal agencies. Without collocation and collaboration, the working relationship suffers. Fortunately, this collocation is proceeding:
Nearly all of the operational fusion centers GAO contacted had federal personnel assigned to them. For example, DHS has assigned personnel to 17, and the FBI has assigned personnel to about three quarters of the operational centers GAO contacted.

[T]he centers varied in their staff sizes and partnerships with other agencies. At least 34 of the 43 operational fusion centers we contacted had federal personnel assigned to them. For example, officials in 17 of the operational centers we contacted reported that they had DHS intelligence officers, and officials in about three quarters of the operational centers told us that they had FBI special agents or intelligence analysts assigned to their centers.
The FBI's engagement is particularly robust:
While the FBI’s role in and support of individual fusion centers varies depending on the interaction between the particular center and the FBI field office, FBI efforts to support centers include assigning FBI special agents and intelligence analysts to fusion centers, providing office space or rent for fusion center facilities, providing security clearances, conducting security certification of facilities, and providing direct or facilitated access to the FBI.

FBI personnel assigned to fusion centers are to provide an effective two-way flow of information between the fusion center and the FBI; participate as an investigative or analytical partner uncovering, understanding, reporting, and responding to threats; and ensure the timely flow of information between the fusion center and the local JTTF and FIG.
Still, there are challenges, including managing the many information systems that feed into fusion centers and the ability (or not) to get security clearances:
[F]usion center officials cited challenges accessing and managing multiple information systems. For example, officials at 31 of the 58 centers we contacted reported challenges obtaining access to federal information systems or networks.

[O]btaining and using security clearances represented a challenge for 44 of the 58 fusion centers we contacted.
More signficantly, there is apprehension on the part of state fusion center directors that the federal government has not made clear its long-term commitment for fusion centers - and that the result would be that eventually fusion centers will become, essentially, an unfunded mandate:
The federal government, through the ISE, has stated that it expects to rely on a nationwide network of fusion centers as the cornerstone of information sharing with state and local governments, but ISE plans or guidance to date do not articulate the long-term role the federal government expects to play in sustaining these centers, especially in relation to the role of their state or local jurisdictions. It is critical for center management to know whether to expect continued federal resources—such as grant funds, facility support, personnel, and information systems—over the long term.
This concern is magnified because a clear commitment to long-term sustainability has not come from the National Fusion Center Coordination Group:
[T]he PM-ISE has established a National Fusion Center Coordination Group (NFCCG), led by DHS and DOJ, to identify federal resources to support the development of a national, integrated network of fusion centers. ... However, to date, the efforts of the NFCCG have not included delineating whether such assistance is for the short-term establishment or long-term sustainability of fusion centers.
It's worth recalling that in the National Strategy for Information Sharing, the federal government pledged to assign personnel to fusion centers "where practical" and to integrate and collocate resources "to the extent practicable. It's this kind of tepid support that makes state and local officials jittery.

It certainly doesn't appear that fusion centers are in any short-term danger. There are too many resources being poured into them, and they're too central to our national strategies. But it's clear that the effort to establish and maintain them could be more coordinated and collaborative. The anxiety of state and local fusion center officials about the federal government's level of commitment is a clear sign that inter-governmental relationships are not yet built on trust.

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