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DHS utility, manufacturing security protection system blasted as useless in Senate report

Senate report says DHS Fusion Centers failing in mission to identify possible terrorism, cyberattacks

By , Network World
October 03, 2012 11:14 AM ET

Network World - America's system of so-called "Fusion Centers" established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for companies like utilities and manufacturers to report incidents that may have national-security implications is operated in a way that's "shoddy, rarely timely," and "sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections."

MORE: Who holds IT security power? 

BACKGROUND: America's critical infrastructure response system is broken

Those were the exact words in the report issued last night by the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that looked into how the roughly 70 state and local Fusion Centers have operated since 2003 when these centers were set up in the hopes of information-sharing between the private sector and government on suspected terrorism or cyberattacks.

According to the report, the DHS overstated "success stories" and kept problems quiet. The Senate subcommittee's review of 13 months of reports that came from the Fusion Centers found none of them uncovered a terrorist threat or did anything to help disrupt an active terrorist plot.

Instead, the investigation says it found that nearly a third of all the Fusion Center reports of that period - 188 out of 610 - were never published for use within DHS and by other members of the intelligence community, "often because they lacked any useful information, or potentially violated department guidelines meant to protect Americans' civil liberties or Privacy Act protections."

The report accuses DHS of storing "troubling intelligence reports" from the Fusion centers on people in the U.S., "possibly in violation of the Privacy Act."

Moreover, the Senate subcommittee says the Fusion Centers, which are in part federally funded, "suffered from a significant backlog." In which sometimes hundreds of draft intelligence reports sat for months before DHS officials made a decision about whether to release them. Many reports were published months late, and even a year after they were filed — making the information appear out-of-date. Most reporting was not about terrorist or possible terrorist plots, but about criminal activity related to drugs, cash or human smuggling.

Last year, the role of the Fusion Centers erupted into the mainstream news in a storm of controversy over a supposed Russian cyberattack on a small Illinois water utility that was included in an advisory from the Fusion center called the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center.

Though the Fusion Centers strive for absolute silence from anyone receiving the reports, that alleged Russian cyberattack information was initially leaked by a consultant in a blog who had happened to have read it as it was passed along to him. That whole incident at the Illinois water utility turned out to be a false alarm of embarrassing proportions. The supposed Russian cyberattack turned out to be a legitimate contractor who happened to be on vacation in Russia with his family who unwisely logged into the Illinois utility's network from there without informing the utility.

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