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Congressional homeland security leaders defend fusion centers

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT)

The leaders of the House and Senate homeland security committees defended DHS’s fusion centers in the wake of a scathing Senate subcommittee report calling the intelligence facilities an ineffective, unbridled, sometimes inept cash drain.

Both Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY) rose in defense of the centers on Oct. 3, just after the report was released by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Ranking subcommittee member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who sponsored the report, said it found DHS efforts to engage state and local intelligence fusion centers hasn’t yielded significant useful information to support federal counter-terrorism intelligence efforts. The report also said the centers produced information that was sometimes “shoddy” and “uneven,” and which possibly violated citizens’ civil rights.

“I strongly disagree with the report’s core assertion that ‘fusion centers have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts,’” said Lieberman. “This statement is not supported by the examples presented in the report and is contrary to the public record, which shows fusion centers have played a significant role in many recent terrorism cases and have helped generate hundreds of tips and leads that have led to current FBI investigations.

King concurred, saying that oversight of the centers, which the report said was lacking, was a laudable goal. He added, however, the report wasn’t an accurate picture of the centers.
“Certainly, information sharing and the fusion center network are worthy topics of Congressional oversight,” he said on Oct. 3. “However, I agree with chairman Joe Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins  (R-ME) that the subcommittee report issued this week paints with too broad a brush an incomplete picture that fails to recognize many of the important contributions that fusion centers have made in securing our Homeland,” he said.

Lieberman cited three cases in which information from fusion centers has played a key role, including the 2009 “Raleigh Jihad” case involving Daniel Patrick Boyd and six others who planned to attack Marine Base Quantico in Virginia. Lieberman said the North Carolina fusion center partnered with the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force on the investigation.

The Massachusetts state fusion center, he said, was credited with a “significant contribution” to corralling  Rezwan Ferdaus the homegrown violent Islamist extremist arrested in 2010 in Boston for his plans to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol with small remote control planes with explosives strapped to them.

The Washington state fusion center coordinated FBI, state and local law enforcement to head up the investigation into the 2011 Seattle military recruiting center plot. Two homegrown violent Islamist extremists were arrested in that case for planning to attack the military recruiting center.  The initial lead in this case came from a Seattle Police Department informant, he said.

“The report does include valuable findings in some areas,” Lieberman added, however. “It cites examples of inappropriate use of homeland security grant funds and accurately notes that FEMA has struggled to account for how homeland security grant funds are allocated and used, a longstanding concern of mine.”

Lieberman contended that without fusion centers, law enforcement and intelligence agencies may not be able to “connect the dots” or break through the “information silos” that sometimes hamper federal, state and local agencies.

The report, he said, has numerous holes and skewed conclusions, including making broad assertions about the value of fusion centers but only examines one narrow aspect of fusion center operations, the formal intelligence reporting process.

 It doesn’t look at DHS support through training and access to classified networks and doesn’t consider finished intelligence products produced by fusion center personnel, or at the liaison officer programs that many centers have established to build ties with local agencies in their state or region.

The FBI’s role in supporting the centers with intelligence analysts is also overlooked, said Lieberman, as well as the importance of the flow of information from federal agencies to the state and local level through fusion centers, which has significantly strengthened the ability of frontline law enforcement officers to detect and prevent potential plots and made our nation safer.

He said it also didn’t acknowledge progress made by what he said was “the vast majority of the fusion centers” in the last few years. “Some fusion centers are still underdeveloped, but the vast majority effectively partner with federal agencies in preventing terrorism and addressing other important national security and public safety missions,” he said.