Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Charlie Allen Sells the National Fusion Center Network

In a speech yesterday before the annual conference of the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) and Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU), DHS Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) Charlie Allen once again took up the task of explaining how federal, state, and local agencies will share information.

Allen has been in the news recently, taking some heat from key members of Congress who charge his unit with dragging its feet on the effort to share information (also see these posts).

But in prepared speeches, of course, everything is always sweetness and light. Let's see if we can read between the lines.

Perhaps the most significant focus of Allen's speech is his commitment to creating a National Fusion Center Network, which was called or in the National Strategy for Information Sharing (my post here). On previous occasions I've questioned whether fusion centers would essentially become funnels for federal agencies to move information down to the state and local levels. State officials have questioned the federal government's commitment to the fusion centers, revealing an anxiety that the centers could become an unfunded mandate.

But on these questions, Allen says the right things in his speech, committing to the fusion center concept as well as two-way sharing through the National Fusion Center Network:

Fully incorporating the analytic function into the law enforcement (sic) is essential to a true implementation of intelligence-led policing, a concept which is being adopted far and wide.

My goal is to support the implementation of a National Fusion Center Network working with our colleagues in the FBI, DOJ, DNI and the PM-ISE.

Working together – leveraging Federal as well as State and Local networks; moving relevant information and intelligence quickly; enabling rapid analytic and operational judgments – that is what this National Fusion Center Network is all about.

In addition, information once only available in cities and states can be used to protect the nation as a whole.
Funding isn't discussed directly, and frankly, Allen doesn't have full control over whether funds are allocated to fusion centers.

But in Allen's comments about two-way sharing, there was one comment I found odd:
[I]nformation which may fit into the bigger picture of national security, but means nothing to the local police officer or analyst who comes across it, now has an avenue to get where it can become part of the national, or even international, intelligence picture.
So the information gathered by state and local law enforcement "means nothing" to the officers and analysts there (and presumably at the fusion center). If so, then how or why would this information move from local and/or state to the national level? If the local/state analyst can't recognize its importance, why would they pass it on? You can't share everything, and even if you could, you couldn't sift it effectively.

To me this gets to a fundamental objective of information sharing - to provide everyone, at all levels, an improved understanding of the context in which potential threats may appear. The goal is to reduce the "unknown unknowns," so that even if a given analyst doesn't have full information on a given threat, he or she can at least recognize it as a "known unknown" - i.e., something that has significance, even if complete information is either unavailable anywhere or unavailable to him/her.

I don't know why Allen would imply that there could be situations in which state and local analysts or officers are in the dark, when it's the point of information sharing to provide light.

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