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Useless Big Brother

Jeff Stein
Intelligence Columnist

In Boston, the number of people in terrorism task forces could fill TD Garden. What good are they?



What Good Are DHS Intelligence Fusion Centers?

Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano, born November 29, 1957, is the third and current United States Secretary of Homeland Security, serving in the administration of President Barack Obama. She is the fourth person (including an acting Secretary) to hold the position, which was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. | Photo: | Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary Of Homeland Security, Dhs,

What Good Are DHS Intelligence Fusion Centers?

Jeff Stein
Intelligence Columnist

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[Comments] Poor Big Brother: All trussed up and nothing to do.

In Boston, the number of people working on terrorism task forces could pack TD Garden for a Bruins game.

You've got the the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. You've got the Boston Regional Intelligence Center. You've got the Commonwealth Fusion Center in suburban Maynard, run by the Massachusetts State Police. You've got multiple agencies of the Department of Homeland Security, a hydra-headed bureaucratic monster if there ever was one. There's a CIA office.

Evidently, however, they couldn't trade a few words over the coffee machine about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wayward travels.

Maybe they should get their heads out of their computer screens. And go back to index cards and hallway water coolers.

Boston police commissioner Edward Davis told Congress Thursday that he had three detectives on the JTTF and they were never told about Tsarnaev.

"Had his department learned about the tip, in which Russian officials said that Mr. Tsarnaev had embraced radical Islam and intended to travel to Russia to connect with underground groups, 'we would certainly look at the individual,'" Davis told the House Homeland Security Committee, according to Scott Shane and Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times.

Davis's testimony echoed what David Procopio, the spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, which oversees the Commonwealth Fusion Center, told the Boston Globe back on Apr. 26: "They didn't share that information with us."

Oh, but we did, the FBI said. It was right there in the computers.

"Many state and local departments directly involved and affected by the Boston Marathon investigation have representatives who are full-time members of the JTTF and who have the same unrestricted access to information and government databases as their FBI colleagues,'' FBI Supervisory Agent Jason Pack told the Globe.

Maybe there's just too many people falling over each other at the JTTF. And thinking the other guy's on top of it.

Less than a week before the Boston attacks, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, complained of "overlap" between "Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems centers, state and major urban area fusion centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Investigative Support Centers."

All noise, no signal.

But guess what the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said six months ago about the so-called fusion centers: They suck.

In their own, more polite phrasing:

"The Subcommittee investigation found that DHS-assigned detailees to the fusion centers forwarded 'intelligence' of uneven quality ' oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."
"Unrelated to terrorism" you say?

And all this for mere "hundreds of millions of dollars," as the PSI found?

DHS itself was clueless on the cash. It told committee investigators "it was unable to provide an accurate tally of how much it had granted to states and cities to support fusion centers efforts, instead producing broad estimates of the total amount of Federal dollars spent on fusion center activities from 2003 to 2011, estimates which ranged from $289 million to $1.4 billion."

Hundred million here, hundred million there....

I suppose -- but only barely suppose -- that wouldn't be so bad if all the agencies in the fusion centers talked to one another.

But they don't.

DHS itself, the investigators said, found "widespread deficiencies in the centers' basic counterterrorism information-sharing capabilities."

And what did it do with that little nugget? Head to the shredder, baby!

"DHS did not share that report with Congress or discuss its findings publicly," PSI said.

"When the Subcommittee requested the assessment as part of its investigation, DHS at first denied it existed, then disputed whether it could be shared with Congress, before ultimately providing a copy."

Now isn't it time to shutter those things?

But no.

"The President has teed-up $39 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security, a decrease of 1.5 percent over the most recently enacted budget," HLS Watch's Philip J. Palin reported a few days before the Boston attack.

God only knows how much will go down the fusion centers' rat hole.

But fear not, DHS told Congress. "Mission 1" is "Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security."


Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein, Intelligence Columnist : [ Click here to
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] Bronze Star recipient, author, and investigative reporter, specializing in U.S. intelligence, defense, and foreign policy, Jeff Stein. Stein was born in Philadelphia but grew up in New England, moving with his family to Maine in 1954. After attending school in Providence, Rhode Island, he moved to Hingham, Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school in 1962. Following high school, he... (more...)