EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Connecting the poop
Contrary to the laws of physics, poop is beginning to roll uphill, and is being launched by another physics-infused idea — state-based fusion centers. For the past couple of years, a little-known collection of more than 30 intelligence-gathering agencies has been quietly rising from the ashes of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose reputations crashed and burned in unison with the World Trade Center.
Only eight states have not created fusion centers, while nine others are developing them. The rest have “some variation of a fusion center,” according to a recent report released by the Tallahassee, Fla.-based National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have prepared a fusion center guide for states that includes the obvious goals, and an all-too-typical labyrinth of methods to reach them.
Meanwhile, states are rising to the challenge of protecting their residents. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney unveiled his state’s central intelligence gathering operation a year ago, based on an idea he proposed in 2003. By 2007, his will be one of only a few fully functioning fusion centers in the country, joining New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Iowa, Arizona and California.
Still, however well intentioned, governments gathering information on their residents can be a two-edged sword. On one side of the blade, with no apparent oversight or regulation, each fusion center will be defining its own boundaries, goals for information and pathway to it. As a result, some agencies may become overzealous, while others may be ineffective.
The consistency, and ultimately the value, of the information sheltered in fusion centers is the problem waiting on the other side of the blade. To produce the information that will most effectively deter crime or terrorism, all fusion centers should begin by establishing certain uniform standards, such as the information they want to collect, the methods they will pursue to gather it and the ways they will share the intelligence, not only within their borders, but between states and, ultimately, the federal government.
If fusion centers will be sharing information to reveal patterns of illicit or illegal activity, then the first step is to ensure that they are looking for the same things and using similar methods to find them. Otherwise, they risk being like the six blind men, each holding an elephant in a different place and collectively trying to determine what is in hand.
Even if all 50 states create fully functioning, information-sharing fusion centers, then we still have several more steps before we can say we are prepared to define and defeat our internal and external threats. Those include turning the intelligence information into the knowledge that leads to intelligent judgement on how and when to act, as well as planning and executing those actions.
State-controlled fusion centers fed by local government agencies may be our best bet to confound our enemies, but before we send our poop uphill, we’d better be sure it doesn’t stink first.