House report tells federal, local law enforcement to work on sharing

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The House Homeland Security Committee on Friday issued a plea to further empower fusion centers, the regional agencies tasked with analyzing and sharing local crime data with local, state and federal officials.

Fusion centers were established in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and have been enhanced through legislation in 2007 and 2008. But the newly released report — based on visits to 32 fusion centers over 19 months — found the agencies had made progress in spreading and assessing information, but still suffered from a lack of a comprehensive strategy, funding and performance metrics.

“Breakdowns in information sharing continue today,” committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement. “The goal of this report is to aid fusion centers in filling in their capability gaps.”

The recent Boston Marathon bombings revived the debate about coordination between local, state and federal officials. Reports indicated one of the bombing suspects had a history with both local officials and the FBI, but that information was never shared between the agencies. The committee’s report highlights the incident as an example of when better collaboration between the FBI and local law enforcement might have prevented a tragedy.

“People generally will share now, but they will generally share once they determine that something is relevant to a terrorism investigation that someone else might be able to help them on,” said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, in July 13 testimony before the Homeland Security Committee. “And that’s too late. … You don’t know if it’s counterterrorism information until you have it, until you can compare it to other information and find connections between those dots.”

The report argues the federal government is taking steps to stymie sharing. It grants too few state and local officials Department of Homeland Security or FBI security clearances. And DHS needs to revisit whether local fusion center should receive more direct funding and grant funding from the government.

“While it is more important than ever for federal fusion center partners to work together to increase information sharing with state and local law enforcement, the FBI is actually removing analysts and information sharing tools from them,” McCaul said.

Instead, fusion centers need to move toward an “all crimes approach to counterterrorism,” the report reads. Increasingly, it argues, terrorist organizations are increasing their local criminal activity. A U.S.-based Hezbollah network, for example, was discovered through indictments for money laundering and cocaine deals.

“If this trend continues, it’s reasonable to assume that criminal investigations will play an increasingly prominent role in U.S. efforts to counter terror finance,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former analyst at the U.S. Treasury Office of Office of Intelligence and Analysis, during a May 18 House hearing.

The House has developed several bills in 2011 and 2012 to strengthen fusion centers, but the bills either did not make it to the floor, or pass the Senate. Currently, the House has reintroduced the Mass Transit Intelligence Prioritization Act, which would send more Transportation Security Administration agents to fusion centers located in cities with mass transit systems. The bill is sitting in committee.

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Congress, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), Departments, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Government IT News, House of Representatives, Information sharing environment, Michael Leiter, shared services
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