Many safety measures and specific methods of counter-terrorism have come under scrutiny following the bombings at the Boston Marathon. One of these relates to fusion centers. Defined by the Department of Homeland Security as “focal points within state and local environments, for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information”, these information hubs have been created to fill in the holes between information know by an anti-terrorism agency but not by local law enforcement, or vice versa.
In other words, fusion centers are supposed the be the exact solution to the kind of gap in information sharing that may have, in part, led to the Marathon bombings.
Massachusetts has two fusion centers: the Commonwealth Fusion Center (CFC) and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). The latter in particular, run by the city, was a DHS-created clearinghouse whose number one priority was being aware of terrorist threats that could affect a city included in the 9/11 assault, via a hijacked airplane.
Yet, the BRIC was unaware of existing investigation and FBI reports relating to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. This, according to BRIC themselves, who claimed they weren’t “privy to the tip” that the FBI was investigating Tsarnaev as a potential threat in 2011.
Whether BRIC was caught flat footed or the FBI simply didn’t share the information is unclear. Spokesman David Procopio said that even if the FBI had put BRIC on notice that Tsarnaev was under examination, the fusion center was unlikely to highlight – and police were unlikely to act – as the FBI officially determined that he didn’t pose a threat.
In response, the FBI stated that direct communication to Boston police was unnecessary in light of the existence of the fusion centers, whose main function lie in access to information without the need to have it directly related by federal agencies. The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Boston, in particular, was pointed as a source from which the fusion center can pull information and connect the dots. The FBI was resolute that the information was available, if not easily accessible, to both BRIC and the CFC.
Perhaps there is a larger issue that obviates any point to the blame game. In 2012, a senate subcommittee studied the effects of fusion centers, determining that few of their positive effects overrode some of the negatives: from excessive costs to violations of civil liberties. For this reason, the ACLU of Massachusetts, among others, have increased calls to reconsider the use of fusion centers as a whole. If the information is otherwise available through the JTTF, and if law enforcement haven’t found it convenient and/or helpful to use fusion centers to access such information, wouldn’t it be easier to cut out the middle man – a middle man that arguably infringes on the most basic of civil liberties.
To the previous point, fusion centers are arguably best known for leading to racial profiling at the Logan International airport in Boston. They have also been criticized for blurring a line between public, private and military enterprise when it comes to combating terrorism, as well as mining data in contravention of basic individual privacy.
Failings aside, there just doesn’t seem to be the right impetus behind upholding a costly program that seems redundant, ineffective, and serves as no more than argumentative fodder between federal and local law enforcement looking for someone to blame.
For questions of criminal law in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Russell J Matson, PC.