The Evolving Role of Fusion Centers in Today’s Threat Environment

December 17, 2021

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the federal government rapidly redefined national security priorities, shifting its focus to counterterrorism and protection of the homeland. Recognizing the obvious gaps in effective information-sharing, the government developed guidelines for the creation of a network of “fusion centers” across the country. These centers were designed to improve the collection, analysis and sharing of terrorism-related intelligence among federal, state, local and tribal authorities. For more than a decade, we at TrapWire have worked closely with fusion centers to support their mission. These are the three primary lessons we have learned:

First, the threat landscape has expanded well beyond the original focus on foreign borne terrorism. Violent extremism, domestic terrorism, human trafficking, counternarcotics, crimes against children, school safety, insider threats, and hostile intelligence operations are but a few of the activities being tackled by the 78 fusion centers operating across the US and Puerto Rico. Moreover, these threat actors are not distinct, as some transnational criminal organizations and other entities span much of this threat spectrum.

Second, information on such threats inevitably is widely scattered. No one can know where the key pieces to the puzzles lie, as demonstrated by numerous instances of missed indicators that would have prevented tragedies, from terrorist attacks to school shootings.  This underscores the need to cast a wide net when collecting threat information and to share information vigorously. These experiences have validated beyond any doubt the motives for the creation of the national fusion center network.

Third, while information sharing helps counter these threats, it also can create vulnerabilities to cyber threats, as we are seeing on a daily basis. Beyond cyber threats, there are legitimate reasons for compartmenting information, including the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties. This is a difficult balancing act for public safety organizations, but it can be achieved.

As the challenges facing fusion centers have evolved, we have had to evolve with them. These lessons have led us to develop and deploy TrapWire Gauntlet, a system currently deployed to hundreds of law enforcement and other public safety organizations across the country, including to several fusion centers. TrapWire Gauntlet enables these organizations to collect information on a broad spectrum of threats, including from members of the public. It also links them to other TrapWire systems in both the public and private sectors, expanding the network to thousands of sites in the US and abroad. TrapWire Gauntlet leverages a combination of state-of-the-art AI, proprietary algorithms, and advanced analytical tools to enable public safety organizations to find and assemble the pieces of the puzzle in near real-time.  As of October 2021, almost 20% of fusion center reporting in TrapWire has been matched to an existing Threat Pattern – that is, tied to at least one or more reports already in the TrapWire national database. These Threat Patterns often extend beyond the fusion center’s jurisdiction, linking its reporting with reports from federal, state, local, tribal or private sector entities with whom they had not previously shared such information.

While facilitating information collection, analysis and sharing, we have also addressed the issue of information security. All TrapWire systems are FedRAMP authorized, meaning they have met the rigorous information security standards of our DOD clients. While FedRAMP requires a significant commitment of resources, it is critical to assuring public safety organizations that their sensitive information is secure.

The pace of change in the coming decade is likely to accelerate. The challenge for fusion centers, and we who support them, will be to establish the flexible technology architecture needed to adapt to these changes, and to do so quickly and securely.

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