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Government

October 3, 2012

Home-front effort at homeland security not paying off

NORMAN — Millions of taxpayer dollars spent on efforts to prevent terrorism were poorly invested, according to a study released today by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The bipartisan investigation, led by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., found that the Department of Homeland Security’s work with state and local fusion centers “has not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts.”

The senate subcommittee spent two years examining federal support of fusion centers and evaluating the resulting counterterrorism intelligence. “Fusion centers” are collaborations of federal, state, local or tribal government agencies combining resources and expertise to “detect, prevent, investigate, apprehend and respond to criminal or terrorist activity.” 

The investigation revealed that Homeland Security has spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion in state and local fusion centers tasked with a counterterrorism mission. Fusion centers operated primarily through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, but FEMA officials said they have no mechanism in place to accurately account for the total amount of Homeland Security grant funding spent on supporting those fusion centers. 

Through two federal administrations, accountability and training of intelligence officials sent to local fusion centers was inadequate, according to the investigation.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al-Qaida, the Department of Homeland Security was created. The 9-11 tragedy was seen as a failure by government intelligence officials to protect the United States from the terrorist threat. 

According to the subcommittee report, since 2003, “over 70 state and local fusion centers, supported in part with federal funds, have been created or expanded, in part to strengthen U.S. intelligence capabilities, particularly to detect, disrupt and respond to domestic terrorist activities.”

The subcommittee investigation found that intelligence forwarded from the fusion centers by Homeland Security intelligence officials assigned to those centers was “of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.” 

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