As part of an ambitious plan to improve the flow of intelligence among law enforcement agencies, the U.S. government has set up several command centers where federal, state and local officials can share information.
But several years into this effort, these so-called "data fusion centers" are not functioning as originally planned, mostly because federal agencies have been reluctant to share intelligence with state and local officials.
Problems include clashing cultures between local law enforcement and federal agencies, lack of trust and the absence of a clear national fusion center strategy.
The data fusion centers were created in the aftermath of 9/11 in an attempt to prevent the intelligence failures that led to the attacks.
Although the concept has gained some funding and momentum, information sharing across agencies has not coalesced as planned. Forty-two states have established a fusion center or announced their intentions to do so, said Thomas Bossert, senior director for preparedness policy at the White House homeland security council. Although there is a significant "coalition of the willing," only about seven of those centers are operational and those few have a lot of work to do. "All operational fusion centers in America would today fail at an exercise," Bossert said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement network-centric conference.
Most of these centers were created in 2004 to 2005 and are still working to acquire the staff and finances needed to sustain them.
One of the biggest challenges to creating successful fusion centers is developing an effective information-sharing environment.
U.S. officials are still "trying to figure out who owns information," said Carter Morris, director of information sharing and knowledge management at the Department of Homeland Security. Right now, intelligence flow between government agencies and law enforcement is subject to delays and gaps, which was demonstrated by the recent British airline threat.
On Aug. 10, 2006, Scotland Yard announced that an attempted terrorist attack on British airliners bound for the United States had been foiled the previous day. Although the White House knew about the plot, few people were told before it became public, Morris said at the conference. White House officials did not want the information released.
Perhaps the White House held out to prevent public panic. Or perhaps the Bush administration felt it alone had the right to that sensitive...