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'Horizontal sharing' emerges at fusion centers

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The phenomenon of fusion centers sharing intelligence and skills with each other--not just with the federal government--is a new and underappreciated aspect of the centers, panelists at a Homeland Security Policy Institute event said.

Fusion centers mainly apply national intelligence to local contexts and gather information locally that they can share with federal agencies. But in recent years, a great deal of "horizontal sharing" has occurred, where fusion centers work closely with each other, said Ross Ashley, the executive director of National Fusion Center Association.

"We'll find an expert in Washington state on international human trafficking over international ferry systems. Well, I don't need that expert everywhere. What I need is the ability to reach out to that expert if I'm in West Virginia," he said at the event, held Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C.

The director of West Virginia's fusion center, Thomas Kirk, appeared alongside Ashley on the panel. Earlier in his decades-long law enforcement career, Kirk said, it was a struggle to find experts from other states who were willing to take the time to share their expertise in a given area.

"I worked up and down the East Coast on a lot of organized crime cases in my career, and it was always kind of a crap shoot when you picked up the telephone to talk to someone--how much interest they were going to take in your case," if any at all, he said.

Kirk noted a recent instance where his fusion center was notified of a potential threat and he reached out to his counterparts across the country via email. Within an hour, more than 60 of the 78 fusion centers nationwide responded that they didn't have any related information, confirming for the West Virginia center that the threat was a local issue, not a wider plot.

That allowed law enforcement officials in the state to concentrate their efforts locally.

"In all law enforcement, I've never seen anything like that," he said. "Most of the time when I call another fusion center director, they know my voice."

For more:
- go to the event webpage (archived webcast available)

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