The Associated Press reports that after 9/11 43 so-called fusion centers were established to improve information flow in part of an anti-terrorism strategy, but according to the Government Accounting Office only two centers, one in Kansas and one in Rhode Island, focus exclusively on antiterrorism. “Other centers focus on all crimes, including drugs and gangs GAO found [sic].” As the article details the centers operate via state police or other law enforcement agencies and often are in the same buildings as federal agencies.
Perhaps most odd is that each center is supposed to be independent and not controlled by the federal government but the Bush administration now has guidelines encouraging a more general sharing of information about criminal activity under the theory that terrorists need funding and will use criminal activities as sources of income. Of course the system raises privacy concerns and even if one thought that using information gathering and sharing techniques with some reduction in privacy was justified to fight terror, the system is now being used under the theory of preventing anything that could cause harm, an immature idea.
Ironically, the article also notes that information technology problems currently hinder the ability to have a Tom Clancy-style, perfect tech center. In addition, the bureaucracy sounds like an updated version of the Keystone cops as reports are often duplicated, staff is hard to find and train, and clearances take time to process and are often not honored by federal agencies. Nonetheless, it is probably better to assume that these glitches will be reduced if not essentially eliminated and that the larger privacy issues will increase in their impact and importance as the systems become more efficient. Put differently, is there a reason to fully realize the Digital Person? For it seems that although better systems to fight crime could be a good thing in the abstract, when the threat is not a more fully realized version of an attack on our society, the sacrifice in terms of freedom is massive. One book to read on an era with similar issues is Secrecy: The American Experience by Daniel Moynihan. Its reflection on Cold War policies in the face of real threats and how the policies made little sense offer an analog to some the issues faced today in the terror context.