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Homeland Security’s ‘fusion centers’ defended in response to sharply critical Senate report

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The Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement authorities and some lawmakers on Wednesday defended information-sharing offices known as “fusion centers” after a sharply critical Senate report said the offices were wasteful and inept.

A national network of fusion centers was begun after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to serve as clearinghouses of intelligence for local, state and federal authorities. The aim was to discover and share information about potential terrorist threats.

The report, the result of a two-year review by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, concluded that the 77 centers nationwide had not produced useful intelligence to support counterterrorism efforts. The report also said the tactics sometimes violated civil liberties.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, acknowledged in a statement that the centers have some problems. But he said the report focused too narrowly on intelligence going to federal officials in Washington and ignored broader benefits, including better information sharing with state law enforcement agencies.

“I strongly disagree with the report’s core assertion that fusion centers have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts,” he said in a statement.

Lieberman was a driving force behind the creation of the centers. The report was issued by the subcommittee, not the full committee.

Several law enforcement groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Fusion Center Association, also said the report did not address the significant benefits that fusion centers provide to state, local and tribal law enforcement.

“Additionally, the report incorrectly asserts that a majority of the information or intelligence released by fusion centers is untimely, inaccurate and of little use. This assertion is false,” the groups said in a joint statement.

DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said that the report was “inaccurate and misleading” and that Senate investigators “refused to review relevant data,” including classified material.

A subcommittee official said that investigators reviewed redacted versions of classified intelligence reports as part of their examination. But they did not refuse to look at any relevant documents, the official said.

Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, accused DHS of hindering the investigation and trying to avoid accountability for the fusion center problems.

“The Department opted not to inform Congress or the public of serious problems plaguing its fusion centers and broader intelligence efforts,” he said. “ I hope this report will help generate the reforms that will help keep our country safe.”

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