Fusion Centers & The Art of Intel

In reference to an MSNBC article titled “Homeland Security Fusion Centers Called Useless“… This was a pretty critical article on the utility and outputs of fusion centers.  Fusion centers have been highly funded by the federal government over the past decade as a means of pulling together local, state, and federal law enforcement officials into one regional facility with the purpose of collecting, sharing, and analyzing intelligence information pertinent to domestic crimes and terrorism.

While the article was critical of the outputs of fusion centers, such as failed leads and off-base reports, there have been successes.  The article eludes to them, but some of those successes are still classified/sensitive information.  Given that, this article may not be fairly representing the progress of fusion centers.  That said, there are still some obvious improvements to be made.

This is not CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, or Law and Order.  The collection and analysis of information (law enforcement intelligence, or otherwise) is not often times a straight forward or simple process.  It can not be accomplished within the confines of an hour-long prime time show.  While I’m not an intel analyst, I’ve performed similar work many times over as a Planning Section Chief and Situation Unit Leader working in incident command posts and emergency operations centers for various types of incidents.  Add in a multi-agency response (which nearly every incident of any measure of complexity surely entails), and you’ve got your hands full just figuring what has happened, much less what’s going on right now, and trying to forecast what will likely happen.  One needs to determine exactly what information is needed, where to get it, how to get it, validate it once it’s received, consider how the information should be shared, cross-reference it with other data, and still make sure that it’s all timely, relevant, and accurate.  Intel gets even more complicated, particularly in the ‘cross referencing’ activity I just listed.  The best way I’ve seen this explained is by ‘collecting the dots and connecting the dots’.  A great book for your intel types is “Intelligence Analysis – A Target Centric Approach“.  It should be required reading for all fusion center staff.

Fusion centers are still a fairly new concept – perhaps could even still be considered a fad.  They are a concept that has likely not reached maturity.  They have certainly been tested in real life and by way of prevention exercises.  On a daily basis they must weed through tons of boring and seemingly irrelevant information, identifying one bit here and one bit there that might be relevant.  These folks are further challenged by a multi-agency environment (certainly a strength in the long run, but still presenting challenges of its own) and the necessity to identify patterns within the intel.  No easy task.  They have policies, processes, and procedures.  They have training and exercises.  Clearly, though, we are doing something wrong.  But what? 

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