Fusion Center Frustrations

Fusion centers.  The 72 that have been created over the past decade or so are, depending on who you listen to, are secret tools of an authoritarian government collecting information about citizens before the big takeover and induction in a string of indoctrination camps or are black holes of government funding that excel in little other than providing a consistent market for flat screen TVs and new opportunities for patronage and cronyism by owning agencies.

I’m a bit more inclined to favor the latter interpretation than the former and a recent report seems to support that (at least IMO).  Major Brian Dietzman from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College has just completed a thesis titled:  Intelligence Analysts at State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers:  An Evaluation of Education and Training Requirements. Now, Maj. Dietzman doesn’t explicitly heap scorn on fusion centers but it’s hard to read this document without seeing fusion centers as seriously flawed institutions.  In his research in visiting fusion centers and interviewing people working in and affiliated with fusion centers and their ancillary functions, Dietzman came up with a number of damning findings:

The majority of fusion center leaders are not familiar with many of the required tasks an analyst must be proficient in to attain the stated competencies.

A serious problem to be sure and today, ten years after 9/11 one must ask that if leaders aren’t familiar with what analysts do why in the world were they placed in charge of a center which (if we are to believe the hype) has intelligence analysis as a (if not the) core function?

The challange, therefore, may not be the concept of fusion centers, but what the federal government is asking them to do – be an information conduit or conduct intelligence analysis.

…fusion centers without analysis are just digital libraries and the information sharing environment creates “inter-library loan” where the fusion center can access other databases.

I never really thought this issue ultimately rested with the federal government but I guess it does in a way.  While the feds have been talking about analysis in fusion centers for years they’ve handed out gobs of cash without really seeing what fusion centers were doing with the money (in terms of analysis) and don’t enforce any real standards.  Without that perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that many centers have avoided doing more than the minimum (data-entry and information sharing).

There is little evidence that the majority of fusion centers are able to produce quality, finished, all source intelligence products; however, the fusion centers are proficient at developing descriptive analysis at the tactical level.

TwShiloh translation:  ‘Most fusion centers manage to do the cognitive equivalent of coloring within the lines reasonably well.’

I’ve expressed my displeasure with the Foundations of Intelligence Analysis Training (FIAT) class before.  It’s ok as a broad, superficial introduction to intelligence analysis but its use as the most common job training platform for new analysts borders on the criminal.  Maj. Dietzman demonstrates his amazing intellect by agreeing with me:

…the potential for the students [of FIAT] to apply more than one analytic technique, beyond a very rudimentary level, is doubtful…analysts are introduced to several analytical methodologies, but with almost no application.

The bottom line remains that after ten years and hundreds of millions of dollars to create this anti-terrorism network of federal, state and local agencies, very little emphasis has been placed on developing a trained analytical staff.

During interviews and conversations with fusion center personnel, very few identified a desire to commit resources for advanced analytic technique training.  California is the only state with an accepted three year development plan for their analysts that includes advanced analytic coursework.

So, if analysts are trained to do analysis, what are they spending their time doing?

…their primary job is to service Requests for Information (RFI’s) from the state troopers on the side of the road.  Although this provides a great service, it is not an intelligence related function.

Can I get an amen?!

Unfortunately, most fusion center leaders have such a weak grasp of intelligence (use may decide how I intended to use that word) that they believe that responding to such RFIs not only are intelligence functions but that they should be the primary intelligence function of their center AND any other activity is merely irrelevant, academic exercises most suited for pointy headed academics than manly men defending our freedom.

Seriously.

I had one conversation with a fusion center supervisor who said that strategic intelligence was irrelevant and the only thing of value was telling the cop on the beat who he should arrest today.

…the consolidation of criminal intelligence units into the fusion centers creates a dominate culture of case support, potentially reducing the broader analysis capability.

TwShiloh translation:  This is what you get for playing it cheap with analysts over the past decade.  Of course if the place is run by people who don’t know the difference between case support and intelligence analysis (or crime analysis), no problemo!

The majority of fusion center leaders are sworn law enforcement personnel…there may be several byproducts of having sworn personnel in charge.  The culture of most law enforcement personnel is one of reactive policing…

Years ago when I mentioned to one fusion center supervisor that perhaps a trained analyst might be worth considering for a position in charge of analysts I was accused of being an anarchist (I kid you not) and asked consider how hurtful my suggestion was to sworn personnel.

Many mid-level and senior managers and leaders in the law enforcement realm have not “bought into” the utilization of intelligence to drive action and decision making.

Another trait of sworn law enforcement personnel is the value they place in training over education.

(See comments about those pointy headed academics and their lack of value above).

The report is worth your time, particularly chapters 4 (from which most of these quotes are derived) and 5 (the recommendations section).

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