Homeland Security, law enforcement officials speak up for 'fusion centres'

 

The US Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement authorities and some lawmakers has defended information-sharing offices known as "fusion centres" after a sharply critical Senate report said the offices were wasteful and inept.

A national network of fusion centres was begun after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to serve as clearing houses of intelligence for local, state and federal authorities. The aim was to discover and share information about potential terrorist threats.

The critical report, the result of a two-year review by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, concluded that the 77 centres nationwide had not produced useful intelligence to support counter- terrorism efforts. The report also said the tactics sometimes violated civil liberties.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the full committee, acknowledged in a statement that the centres have some problems. But he said the subcommittee's report focused too narrowly on intelligence going to federal officials in Washington and ignored broader benefits, including better information sharing with state law enforcement agencies.

"I strongly disagree with the report's core assertion that fusion centres have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts," said Lieberman, a driving force behind the creation of the fusion centres.

Several law enforcement groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs' Association and the National Fusion centre Association, said the report did not address the significant benefits that the centres provide to state, local and tribal law enforcement. "Additionally, the report incorrectly asserts that a majority of the information or intelligence released by fusion centres is untimely, inaccurate and of little use," their joint statement said.

DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said that the report was "inaccurate and misleading" and that Senate investigators "refused to review relevant data," including classified material.

A subcommittee official said that investigators reviewed redacted versions of classified intelligence reports as part of their examination but that they did not refuse to look at any relevant documents.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, accused DHS of hindering the investigation and trying to avoid accountability for the fusion centre problems.

"The Department opted not to inform Congress or the public of serious problems plaguing its fusion centres and broader intelligence efforts," he said. "I hope this report will help generate the reforms that will help keep our country safe."

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