Combatting Homegrown Terrorism With Fusion Centers
Secretary Janet Napolitano and other officials from the Department of Homeland Security testified today on the growing threat of homegrown terrorists and small-scale attacks. There’s a growing chorus from the homeland security community on this trend, and Napolitano testified that although for many years Al Qaeda and its allies seemed to be waiting for the opportunity to stage an attack on the dramatic scale of 9/11, these days, a looser network of groups is more willing to resort to tactics like planting IEDs:
It is clear that the threat of al Qaeda-style terrorism is not limited to the al-Qaeda core group, or organizations that have close operational links to al Qaeda. While al Qaeda continues to threaten America directly, it also inspires its affiliates and other groups and individuals who share its violent ideology and seek to attack the United States claiming it is in the name of Islam – a claim that is widely rejected.
One of the ways DHS is approaching this threat is by beefing up the country’s network of fusion centers — groups that fuse local law enforcement work with national-level intelligence. Napolitano has made the centers a major focus of the department’s FY11 grant cycle. The idea is, as Napolitano said today, is that “in an environment where operatives may not have close links to international terrorist organizations – and where they may, in fact, be based within this country – these levels of law enforcement may be the first to notice something suspicious.”
Fusion centers don’t have the strongest records of keeping their focus on international terrorist organizations, though. As G.W. Schulz reports for the Center for Investigative Reporting:
One of the nation’s oldest fusion centers, known as the El Paso Intelligence Center, accidentally caused a California couple that owns a flight training school to be falsely held at gunpoint by police for the second time. Twice now EPIC has failed to clean up incorrect data that led authorities to believe a plane owned by the pair was stolen.
In Maryland, a fusion center and DHS ended up labeling a peace group as terrorists. Anti-abortion activists have also come under suspicion.
Despite these sorts of missteps, the number of fusion centers is only growing: there are currently 72 scattered across the country.