WASHINGTON -- A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program
created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 has improperly
collected information about innocent Americans and produced little
valuable intelligence on terrorism, a U.S. Senate report concludes. It
portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to
What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal
officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead
cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen
televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that
are used for commuting, investigators found.
investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist
threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center
reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," the report said.
the program did address terrorism, it sometimes did so in ways that
infringed on civil liberties. The fusion centers have made headlines for
circulating information about the American Civil Liberties Union,
activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and
advocates of gun rights.
One fusion center cited in the Senate
investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group's list of
book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at
mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.
bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of
Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts.
The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National
security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and
manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money
went for ordinary local crime-fighting.
Homeland Security says
the report is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information
produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from
their involvement with federal intelligence officials.
Because of a
convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security
officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long
effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. Government
estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal
money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal
funding is pegged at about 20% to 30%.
Despite that, Congress is
unlikely to stop the funding. That's because, whether it stops
terrorists, the program means politically important money for state and
A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee
reviewed more than 600 unclassified reports over a one-year period and
concluded that most had nothing to do with terrorism.
of criminal activity was contained in those reports. The government did
not circulate them, but it kept them on government computers. The
federal government is prohibited from storing information about First
Amendment activities not related to crimes.
"It was not clear why,
if DHS had determined that the reports were improper to disseminate,
the reports were proper to store indefinitely," the report said.
Security Department spokesman Matthew Chandler called the report "out
of date, inaccurate and misleading." He said that it focused entirely on
information being produced by fusion centers and did not consider the
benefit the involved officials got receiving intelligence from the
The report is as much an indictment of
Congress as it is the Homeland Security Department. In setting up the
department, lawmakers wanted their states to decide what to spend the
money on. Time and again, that set-up has meant the federal government
has no way to know how its security money is being spent.
Homeland Security, officials have long known there were problems with
the reports coming out of fusion centers, the report shows.
would have some guys, the information you'd see from them, you'd scratch
your head and say, 'What planet are you from?'" an unidentified
Homeland Security official told Congress.
Until this year, the
federal reports officers received five days of training and were never
tested or graded afterward, the report said.
States have had
criminal analysis centers for years. But the story of fusion centers
began in the frenzied aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
9/11 Commission urged better collaboration among government agencies.
As officials realized that a terrorism tip was as likely to come from a
local police officer as the CIA, fusion centers became a hot topic.
putting people together to share intelligence proved complicated.
Special phone and computer lines had to be installed. The people reading
the reports needed background checks. Some information could only be
read in secure areas, which meant construction projects.
All of that cost money.
federal intelligence agencies were under orders from Congress to hire
more analysts. That meant state and local agencies had to compete for
smart counterterrorism thinkers. And federal training for local analysts
wasn't an early priority.
Though fusion centers receive money
from the federal government, they are operated independently.
Counterterrorism money started flowing to states in 2003. But it wasn't
until late 2007 that the Bush administration told states how to run the
State officials soon realized there simply wasn't that
much local terrorism-related intelligence. Terrorist attacks didn't
happen often, but police faced drugs, guns and violent crime every day.
Normal criminal information started moving through fusion centers.
federal law, that was fine. When lawmakers enacted recommendations of
the 9/11 Commission in 2007, they allowed fusion centers to study
"criminal or terrorist activity." The law was co-sponsored by Sens.
Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the driving forces behind the creation
of Homeland Security.
Five years later, Senate investigators found, terrorism is often a secondary focus.
fusion centers lacked either the capability or stated objective of
contributing meaningfully to the federal counterterrorism mission," the
Senate report said. "Many centers didn't consider counterterrorism an
explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were
simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work."
Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary in 2009, the former
Arizona governor embraced the idea that fusion centers should look
beyond terrorism. Testifying before Congress that year, she
distinguished fusion centers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task
Forces that are the leading investigative and analytical arms of the
domestic counterterrorism effort.
"A JTTF is really focused on
terrorism and terrorism-related investigations," she said. "Fusion
centers are almost everything else."
Congress, including the
committee that authored the report, supports that notion. And though the
report recommends the Senate reconsider the amount of money it spends
on fusion centers, that seems unlikely.
"Congress and two
administrations have urged DHS to continue or even expand its support of
fusion centers, without providing sufficient oversight to ensure the
intelligence from fusion centers is commensurate with the level of
federal investment," the report said.
And following the release of the report, Homeland Security officials indicated their continued strong support for the program.