Fusion Centers

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"Fusion Centers" are terrorism response and prevention centers designed to promote information sharing about potential threats between federal, state and local law enforcement officers. [1] They were started as a joint project between the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs between 2003 and 2007. According to the DOJ, "a fusion center is an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources."[2]

Although the centers may have started in an attempt to gather criminal intelligence data, the fusion centers have continually focused on public and private sector data, raising many concerns about the privacy rights of Americans. [3]

As of July 2009, there were 72 designated fusion centers with 36 field representatives deployed. Department of Homeland Security has given more than $254 million to support fusion centers from FY 2004-2007. [4] The stimulus package gave $250 million to upgrade, modify and construct state and local fusion centers. [5] With the exception of Idaho and Pennsylvania, every state has at least one fusion center (if not more, as is the case with Texas). [6] State and local police departments provide both space and resources for the majority of fusion centers, and centers may be staffed by DHS employees, local police, or the private sector. [7]

Criticism of Fusion Centers: Overreaching and Lack of Oversight

Critics of fusion centers worry about the secrecy and lack of regulation or authority over individual centers, as well as the privacy intrusions that can arise from this lack of oversight.


The federal role in supporting fusion centers consists of providing financial assistance, primarily through the Homeland Security Grant Program, as well as security clearances, providing congressional authorization and appropriation of national foreign intelligence program resources, and some training.[8] States have been using local, state, and federal funds since 2004 to create fusion centers, but no standards or guidelines have been in existence to assist with interoperability and communication issues between centers at the regional, state, and federal levels. [9]. Most significantly, there has been a marked lack of regulation and federal oversight over individual fusion centers.

Both the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service have told Congress the need for more oversight in fusion centers. [10] A Congressional Research Service Report highlights the lack of focus of fusion centers on actual terrorism. "The centers "have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach," focusing on traditional criminals and local emergencies, according to a report this month by the Congressional Research Service (CRS)." [11] The CRS Report further found "little true fusion, or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps and pro-active collection of intelligence." [12]

The DOJ and Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) have recently developed fusion center guidelines in response to these criticisms.[2]


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) highlights five problem areas regarding fusion centers: ambiguous lines of authority, private sector participation, military participation, data fusion/data mining, and excessive secrecy. [13]

With respect to ambiguous authority, the ACLU points out how fusion centers can exploit differences at the federal, state and local levels to gather information while avoiding oversight. [14] Because some states have stronger privacy laws while other states have weak privacy protection, the fusion center can manipulate where the record is held to evade public oversight. [15] Many fusion centers are using private corporations in the collection of intelligence gathering, which creates a much greater risk of a security breach. [16]

Furthermore, military involvement in fusion centers violates the historical prohibition on the U.S. military acting in a law enforcement capacity on U.S. soil (except under express authority of Congress), as enshrined in the 1878 law known as the Posse Comitatus Act. [17]

In terms of data mining, the fusion center guidelines encourage complete data collection and processes that are a threat to privacy. [18]

Fusion Centers Used to Spy on Innocent Americans

Fusion Centers have been used improperly to spy on innocent Americans. In 2005 and 2006, the Maryland State Police carried out surveillance of war protesters and death penalty opponents. [19] The surveillance information made its way into databases shared with local, national, and federal agencies via Maryland's state fusion center. [20]


The ACLU commented on this lapse of judgment in surveillance of innocent individuals: "The lack of proper legal limits on the new fusion centers not only threatens to undermine fundamental American values, but also threatens to turn them into wasteful and misdirected bureaucracies that, like our federal security agencies before 9/11, won't succeed in their ultimate mission of stopping terrorism and other crime." [21]


Maryland is not the only example of fusion centers being misused. A Texas Fusion Center Bulletin stated that, "it is imperative for law enforcement officers to report the activities of lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups in their areas." [22] "The Texas fusion center's bulletin shows an unhealthy disregard for constitutional rights and democratic processes," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. [23]


The threat to privacy is accentuated by Homeland Security guidelines that encourage fusion researchers to investigate financial, medical, internet, email, and video surveillance information. [24] Medical records, for example, are protected by federal privacy laws.

External Articles


  1. Robert O'Harrow Jr.,"Centers Tap Into Personal Databases,""Washington Post,"April 2, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Fusion Centers and Information Sharing," U.S. Department of Justice Office of Information Sharing, accessed August 20, 2010.
  3. Robert O'Harrow Jr.,"Centers Tap Into Personal Databases,""Washington Post,"April 2, 2008.
  4. DHS,"State and Local Fusion Centers,"DHS Website,"July 2009.
  5. Hilary Hylton,"Fusion Centers: Giving Cops Too Much Information,""Time Magazine,"March 9, 2009.
  6. Id.
  7. Monahan, T. and Palmer, N.A. 2009. The Emerging Politics of DHS Fusion Centers. Security Dialogue 40 (6): 617-636.
  8. EPIC,"CRS Report for Congress""Congressional Research Service,"July 6, 2007.
  9. DOJ"Executive Summary Fusion Center,""DOJ,"April 2008.
  10. Dan Olson,"Fusion Centers Protect Us, but At What Cost?","Minnesota Public Radio,"December 16, 2008.
  11. Mimi Hall,"State-run Sites Not Effective vs. Terror,""USA Today,"July 24, 2007.
  12. Id.
  13. ACLU,"What's Wrong with Fusion Centers,""American Civil Liberties Union,"December 5, 2007.
  14. Id.
  15. ACLU,"Report: What's Wrong with Fusion Centers?""American Civil Liberties Union,"December 2007.
  16. Id.
  17. ACLU,"Report: What's Wrong with Fusion Centers?""American Civil Liberties Union,"December 2007.
  18. ACLU,"What's Wrong with Fusion Centers,""American Civil Liberties Union,"December 5, 2007.
  19. Hilary Hylton,"Fusion Centers: Giving Cops Too Much Information,""Time Magazine,"March 9, 2009.
  20. Id.
  21. Hilary Hylton,"Fusion Centers: Giving Cops Too Much Information,""Time Magazine,"March 9, 2009.
  22. Salem-News,"Fusion Center Encourages Improper Investigations of Lobbying Groups and Anti-War Activists,""Salem-News,"May 8, 2009.
  23. Id.
  24. Dan Olson,"Fusion Centers Protect Us, but At What Cost?","Minnesota Public Radio,"December 16, 2008.