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$1.4 billion DHS fusion centers ‘irrelevant, useless,’ report says

Oct. 2, 2012 - 08:51PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., speaks to a journalist at the Capitol.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., speaks to a journalist at the Capitol. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Federally funded centers created to improve terrorism-related information-sharing with state and local governments often produce “irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting,” congressional investigators concluded in a review released Tuesday.

Most fusion center reporting didn’t involve terrorists or potential plots, but instead focused on arrest information related to drug, cash or human smuggling, according to the review by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee. Some reports drew on news releases or media accounts; others appeared to duplicate information provided by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the subcommittee found. Of 610 reports reviewed by the panel for a 13-month period in 2009-2010, none uncovered a terrorist threat or aided in disrupting an active plot, the review said.

Staff for the subcommittee’s top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, carried out the investigation, but the findings were endorsed by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

DHS officials said spending on fusion centers could be as much as $1.4 billion between 2003 and 2011, the subcommittee said. DHS spokesman Matt Chandler did not respond to a Federal Times query seeking the 2012 budgeted amount for the program.

The program, which dates back almost a decade, aims to improve information-sharing across all levels of government. While the centers are owned and operated by state and local governments, they have received hundreds of millions of dollars in Department of Homeland Security funding in recent years. Almost every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, now has a fusion center, augmented by more than two dozen regional centers generally located in major urban areas, according to a list on the DHS website.

The subcommittee review “fundamentally misunderstands” the federal role in supporting the program, Chandler said in a statement that called the findings “out of date, inaccurate and misleading.” Among other benefits, Chandler said, fusion centers “play a key role by receiving classified and unclassified information” from the federal government, thus helping front-line law enforcement better protect their communities, whether from “terrorism or other criminal activities.”

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