Fusion Centers in Combating Terrorism
“Fusion centers are hubs where information is shared and are designed to pool the knowledge and expertise of state, local and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and, in some instances, other government agencies, military officials and private sector entities”(Siegel, and Worrall, 2015). The fusion centers are independent regional, state or local entities, with no specific federal legal status. They operate primarily on state funding, though they generally receive federal funds and work closely with federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are not established pursuant to specific state legislation or state executive orders, but they get their authority from general statutes creating state police agencies or memoranda of understanding among partner agencies. This paper explicitly reviews role of fusion centers in the fight against terrorism and in coordination of criminal justice activities, the structure and operation protocols of a fusion center, the history of fusion centers, or any controversies arising from the creation and operation of fusion centers.
The fusion centers were first introduced after the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks whereby the federal and state governments embarked on a far-ranging effort to detect and defend the country against potential terrorist threats (Orthmann, Cho, Hess, 2014). The centers have operated for more than a decade and their functions and activities have grown over time within the US. Fusion centers were originally intended to focus on terrorist threats but their activities have changed and have been expanded with time to involve other activities that are not related to terrorism. Most of the fusion centers in the US deal with all crimes, hazards and natural calamities that affect the US meaning that the collected information is related to all crimes with no exception of terrorism.
Fusion centers are integrated into federal information-sharing programs to ensure that information from all the states in received in the fusion centers and shared with the federal government. Fusion centers are staffed by individuals with federal security clearances who receive information from a multitude of federal intelligence and law enforcement databases. The DHS has ensured that the centers are structured and conditioned on certification by ensuring that they adhere to privacy and civil rights protections that are as comprehensive as the federal Privacy Guidelines for the Information Sharing Environment.
They facilitate the exchange of information between different agencies relating to terrorist threats, law enforcement, and criminal intelligence and, in many instance calamities and hazards. Fusion centers collect and disseminate a wide array of information because they access information from a diverse sources for instance databases maintained by agencies of all levels of the government, law enforcement and intelligence files, records of financial transactions and utilities payments and insurance-fraud databases. They also maintain subscriptions to the commercial databases of private information re-sellers for example, some states buy access to credit reports and others to car-rental databases. Often these databases provide instant access to records on homes, cars and phone numbers.
They also collaborate with a wide variety of private actors in sectors such as banking, education, energy, and hospitality and lodging in sharing information so as to ensure that the agencies put in place safety measures that help in case of terrorist or criminal attacks. They also act as clearing houses for information that is gotten from many sources whereby the information is sorted so as to remain with the most relevant information that is beneficial in the fight against criminal activities. They are also used as places where the information is analyzed and redistributed, whether in the raw form of reports of suspicious activities that is seen to be related to criminal activities or potential infrastructure vulnerabilities (Masse, Neil, Rollins, 2008).
Many controversies and Concerns have been raised from the creation of fusion centers for instance those that are related to constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection and freedom of expression. It is argued that the privacy rights of people are violated when law enforcement agencies collect information on people in the US. These concerns are magnified in the case of fusion centers, given the amount of data that they can aggregate and their role as hubs in an information-sharing network. The nature of fusion centers raises concerns that information may be improperly accessed by or stored in fusion center databases, and that individuals might be subject to unwarranted scrutiny based on innocuous activities or their political or religious beliefs or racial status. Cooperation and information sharing are essential to effective policing, but troubling anecdotal reports indicate that some fusion centers have disregarded constitutional limitations on law enforcement activity and may have infringed upon the rights of U.S. citizens and residents.
Furthermore, new systems of collecting and disseminating reports of suspicious activity observed by local law enforcement officials have resulted in the creation of vast databases of information compiled on individuals without reasonable suspicion that these individuals are linked to terrorism without much evidence hence a violation of their constitutional rights.
Additionally many have criticized the centers for bias and racial profiling for the reason that a number of disturbing reports have indicated that some fusion center and state and federal law enforcement personnel have targeted individuals for suspicion based on characteristics such as religion, political beliefs and race. Profiling on these grounds is neither effective nor consistent with constitutional values that are supposed to be enjoyed by all citizens regardless of their orientation to a group. In addition, the information-sharing function of fusion centers has the potential to multiply the harm caused by profiling, because improperly acquired information in one fusion center can readily be disseminated to other fusion centers, law enforcement agencies and federal intelligence agencies. This has raised many controversies on the legality of the centers and has made them to be subject to criticism from the general observing public and the activities of human rights.
Masse, T., O’Neil, S., & Rollins, J. (2008). Information and intelligence (including terrorism) fusion centers. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Orthmann, C. Cho, H., & Hess, K. (2014). Introduction to law enforcement and criminal justice.
Siegel, L. ., & Worrall, J. (2015). Essentials of criminal justice.