Magazine article National Defense

Information GAPS: Fusion Centers Aim to Connect Federal, State, Local Agencies

Magazine article National Defense

Information GAPS: Fusion Centers Aim to Connect Federal, State, Local Agencies

Article excerpt

BALTIMORE -- Capt. Charles Rapp, director of the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, opened the door inside a nondescript office building on the outskirts of this city. No placard or sign outside gave away his office's location.

Inside, a staff of federal, state and local law enforcement agency personnel manned phone lines and kept tabs on a 15-foot wide split television screen tuned into CNN, Fox News and a local news broadcast. The men and women standing watch have a common goal: to prevent terrorists from striking the United States again.

MCAC is one of about 20 state, local or regional "intelligence fusion centers" that has received Department of Homeland Security funding. The concept, being pushed by DHS and the Department of Justice, calls for states, regions or cities to gather representatives from all their law enforcement agencies under one roof, along with intelligence analysts and representatives from federal agencies.

While there is no formal definition of what constitutes a fusion center, and no congressional mandate directing states to create them, DHS has disbursed $380 million in grants to help fund them so far, and their numbers are growing.

While the ultimate goal is to correct the well-documented mistakes that led to the 9/11 attacks, the centers are increasingly being used to track crimes not typically associated with terrorism, said Rapp, who also serves as the chief of the Baltimore Police Department.

Founded in 2003, MCAC is one of the first fusion centers to get off the ground. "For almost all the agencies, this was new," Rapp said in a meeting room where a large poster describing 28 international terrorist organizations hung on the wall. "Interaction between state, federal and local law enforcement had never happened before in a fusion center concept."

The U.S. military and intelligence agencies have struggled to break down the so-called stove-pipes of information, often characterized by turf battles over who controls access to what top secret information. Prior to 9/11, the "stovepiping" between state, local and federal police agencies, was just as acute, Rapp said.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told police chiefs in a speech last year that the centers will seek to thwart "plots arising in local communities, involving local people, American citizens, who may become radicalized over the Internet or because of a recruiter ..."

To put an end to the turf battles, the government-wide solution is currently the "fusion" concept--a bricks and mortar location where all stakeholders are represented, and can communicate face-to-face and build personal relationships while accessing some of the dozens of high-security law enforcement databases. The intelligence agencies have come together at the National Counterterrorism Center in Northern Virginia to keep track of multi-national threats. A pilot program, Project SeaHawk in Charleston, S.C., keeps tab on seaport security with representatives of Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and state and local officials.

The concept, so far, is succeeding in Maryland, Rapp said. But the center had some growing pains.

"There was a lot of discussion about what [information] people would have access to, what they wouldn't get access to. Sometimes, we're still hammering out the finer parts of that, but for the most part, that all got worked out."

Important for the operation's success was ensuring that no single agency was seen as running the show, Rapp said.

The center's staff of about 50 is made up of local law enforcement, state police and representatives from the FBI. Rapp, and the two previous directors, have come from the local law enforcement community. The watch commander has traditionally been a state police representative. Feds have run the analytic center.

"It was designed specifically that way so nobody could hang their hat on it and say 'that's a state police center, FBI center or any other entity,'" Rapp said. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.