Fusion at Work: A New Type of Organization Helps Combat Terrorism

May 2011
Topics: Collaborative Computing, Collaborative Decision Making, Safeguard and Secure Cyberspace, Prevent Terrorism
Following 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a network of fusion centers to improve information sharing and help combat terrorism.
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On September 19, 2009, an anti-American extremist attempted to detonate a bomb in the New York City subway system. The attack was thwarted with help from a relatively new type of organization known as a fusion center. In this case, authorities in New York and at the Colorado Information and Analysis Center in Centennial provided key information that led to the apprehension and arrest of the perpetrator before any harm could come to the city.

The Department of Homeland Security created fusion centers following 9/11 to improve information sharing and help combat terrorism. These locally operated terrorism response centers serve as hubs for information exchange between federal agencies and state and local partners. The ultimate goal: End users—including law enforcement officials, state and local government representatives, federal counterterrorism analysts, and intelligence analysts—will have significantly increased capability to share information.

Currently, 72 fusion centers exist across the United States. In 2007, under the purview of DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, MITRE began working to improve the way fusion centers gather and share intelligence. Since the work began, it has been transitioned to the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute (HSSEDI™) federally funded research and development center (FFRDC), operated by MITRE for DHS.

"Part of our SEDI mandate is to help DHS start to integrate and collaborate across the homeland security community, both inside and outside of the department," says Kim Warren, until recently the chief technologist of MITRE's Homeland Security Center, which manages and operates HSSEDI. (Warren has recently been appointed technical director for MITRE's Center for Transforming Health.)


Hubs of Information

According to Jeffrey Sands, chief scientist for the MITRE Homeland Security Center intelligence and law enforcement portfolio, MITRE's systems engineering expertise has helped the centers form an efficient collaboration community that "connects law enforcement, emergency responders, and intelligence professionals across the country."

MITRE has also assisted DHS in deploying a secret-level network, the Homeland Secure Data Network (HSDN) to the fusion centers. Using an end-to-end systems engineering process, the company assisted in deploying the network to the fusion centers, thus extending their informational reach. MITRE's guidance ranged from requirements analysis, technical architecture, and technical deployment management to oversight of HSDN technology finances, acquisitions, delivery, and installation.

The work has since been transitioned to HSSEDI, and now 52 fusion centers have operational HSDN connectivity—up from only 10 in 2007. Besides using the HSDN capabilities to connect the fusion centers with their law-enforcement and counterterrorism partners, the network has also been used to support major national events, such as the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the Presidential Inauguration, and the Olympic Games.

Function and Future

By mid-2010, MITRE had transitioned full leadership and operation of the community of interest and a newly developed portal for analysts to the federal government, but the company's involvement in the matter of fusion centers continues. In 2009, MITRE worked with DHS on a study that sought to identify fusion center best practices for effective transmittal of information and intelligence to first preventers and responders. According to Stacey Stanchfield, chief engineer of the HSSEDI's cybersecurity and communications department, the study was "recognized and highly commended" at the 2010 National Fusion Center Conference.

Handshake, MITRE's partner-accessible social network application, also plays an important role; several Handshake groups, including those for the National Fusion Center Association and the National Forum on Fusion Center Issues, support collaboration and information transfer between centers. Finally, the Fusion Center Integration Laboratory, a MITRE internal research project, is currently exploring the creation of virtual fusion centers.

"MITRE is working to bring the state and local terrorism prevention community and the federal partners together to transform fusion center operations, strengthen the national network, and more effectively deliver integrated prevention, mitigation, and response to terror threats and other hazards," Warren says.

"Terrorism prevention is DHS's priority mission, and part of that is enabling a robust, effective fusion center network in a manner that protects lawful commerce, civil liberties, privacy, and other fundamental freedoms that define our way of life."

—by Tricia Bailey


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