Panel hits DHS on fusion centers

Hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars were funneled into supporting fusion centers across the nation in an effort to share terrorism-related information, but an investigation reveals the project yielded few real results.

A probe into fusion centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found the facilities did not produce useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts and often were provided with “shoddy” information that occasionally threatened citizens’ civil liberties and privacy.

“It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (pictured below left), the subcommittee’s ranking member who initiated the investigation. “Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties.”

The subcommittee investigation also found officials from the Homeland Security Department, which was charged with leading the initiative, often exaggerated claims about the fusion centers. For example, DHS officials claimed fusion centers existed when they did not, and inflated the facilities’ “success stories.” Additionally, DHS officials failed to divulge evaluations that uncovered glitches at fusion centers and in DHS’ own operations.

These issues are nothing new as the probe showed problems were already apparent in 2010. An assessment back then found sweeping deficiencies in the fusion centers’ basic counterterrorism information-sharing capabilities. However, DHS did not share those evaluations with Congress or discuss those discoveries publicly. When the subcommittee asked to see the report as part of its investigation, DHS first denied its existence, then disputed whether it could be shared before finally handing over a copy.

Sen. Tom CoburnThe subcommittee reviewed more than a years’ worth of data from fusion centers, but found nothing that indicated they had uncovered a terrorist threat or thwarted a terrorist plot. Instead, the fusion centers “produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.” Some of the “intelligence” reporting was based on older news releases or media reports.

DHS disputed the findings. DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler, quoted in the New York Times, said the subcommittee's report is "out of date, inaccurate and misleading.” He said the investigators “refused to review relevant data, including important intelligence information pertinent to their findings.”

The subcommittee did not blame DHS entirely for the fusion center failures, pointing a finger at Congress because “amid all the congressional oversight, some of the worst problems plaguing the department’s fusion center efforts have gone largely undisclosed and unexamined.”

In response to the investigation, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said the report failed to acknowledge many of the important contributions the fusion centers had made in securing the nation.

“The House Homeland Security Committee has long focused on ensuring their effectiveness,” he said. “In fact, my committee is in the final stages of an extensive review of fusion centers and will offer significant recommendations for improvement in the coming weeks.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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