One of the most contentious debates in recent years in the area of Homeland Security concerns fusion centers, which are state and local organizations devoted to information sharing and analysis. The centers are riddled with advocates of good governance who question their effectiveness. They also raise concerns among civil rights activists, who argue that they threaten civil rights.

Fusion centers are designed to organize and localize the collection of domestic intelligence through an integrated system of distributed data networks between fusion centers, local law enforcement agencies, and federal intelligence services. Fusion centers employ federal, federal and local law enforcement, Homeland Security, other state and local agencies, the U.S. intelligence community, the military, and private companies to spy on Americans in total secrecy. 

What is a fusion center?

A Fusion Center is an information center that facilitates the exchange of information between local, state, tribal, territorial and federal authorities. Fusion Centers are designed to facilitate information sharing with federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of Justice and federal, local and tribal law enforcement at the federal level. According to government documents, fusion centers focus on breaking down barriers between different government agencies that collect and maintain information about criminal intelligence. 

A fusion centre is a physical place where the equipment and personnel for the analysis and exchange of intelligence are housed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website lists 78 approved fusion centers.

Why do we have fusion centers?

After the attacks of 11 September, a national network of fusion centres was set up to enable cross-border cooperation to respond to criminal and terrorist activities. Fusion centers today serve as focal points in the state and local environment for receiving, analyzing, collecting and exchanging threat related information between federal government, states, municipalities, tribal, territorial and private partners. In February 2018, the US Department of Homeland Security recognized 79 fusion centers. 

State and local fusion centers were created to share counter-terrorism information between government agencies to prevent the failures that contributed to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. They exhibited a persistent pattern of violating Americans privacy and civil liberties, releasing unreliable and ineffective information, and obstructing financial and other standards of public accountability. Given that NSA surveillance is at the center of the news, fusion centers as part of the surveillance state deserve closer scrutiny. Fusion centers are local arms of the so-called Intelligence Community, the 17 intelligence agencies that coordinate under the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC).

The ultimate aim of the fusion centers is to provide a mechanism for law enforcement, public safety and private partners to accomplish the goal of enhancing the ability to protect our homeland and prevent criminal activity jointly. The mission of the Florida Fusion Center is to protect Florida’s citizens, visitors, resources and critical infrastructure by enhancing information sharing, intelligence and preparedness operations between local, state and federal agencies in line with Florida’s national security strategy. The concept of the Fusion Center was created as a result of the 9/11 report and an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to establish better communication and cooperation between state, local and territorial law enforcement agencies and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and several others. Sources: 3, 9, 12

What information do fusion centers have?

Fusion centres receive information from a variety of sources, including federal, state and local bodies, to ensure that timely and relevant information is made available to the right stakeholders within their geographical area of responsibility. Fusion centers contribute to the ISE by receiving threat information from the federal government, analyzing threat information in the context of their local environment, sharing threat information with local authorities, collecting tips that lead to suspicious activity reports to local authorities and the public.

By supporting the reception, analysis, collection and exchange of threat-related information between the federal government and partners from state, local, tribal, territorial and private sectors, Federal agencies improve and coordinate the planning, deployment and deployment of personnel, training, technical assistance, exercises, security clearance assistance, connectivity to federal systems and technologies and provide funding to support the national network of fusion centres. 

The Federal government uses fusion centres as the primary point of contact in the state and local environment for receiving and exchange terrorist-related information. State and regional fusion centers enable local, state and tribal governments to collect, process, analyse and share information and intelligence about crime and threats. Federal agencies provide information on terrorism to state, local and tribal authorities through fusion centers. While they are allegedly only used to combat terrorism and crime, privacy advocates are rightfully concerned that these fusion centers are collecting more data, including innocent person information from sites like Facebook and Twitter, or even dating sites like Tinder and SexFriend.

State and regional fusion centres communicate, cooperate and coordinate with each other and with the Federal Government. Fusion centers are located in states and large urban areas across the country to empower law enforcement, public safety and fire departments, emergency response, public health, critical infrastructure protection and private-sector security staff to collect and share threat information. Fusion centers serve as the primary point of contact in the local and state environment for receiving, analyzing, collecting and exchanging threat-related information with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners at these sites. 

States and major urban fusion centers provide analytical and information-sharing capabilities to support state and local law enforcement efforts, prevent and investigate crime in our local communities, and address pressing national challenges such as gang and border violence, drugs, murder, and terrorism. State and metropolitan fusion centers conduct analyses, facilitate information sharing and help law enforcement and homeland security partners preventing, protecting and responding to crimes and terrorism worldwide. They provide interdisciplinary expertise and situational awareness through Fusion Centers to influence decision-making at all levels of government.