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Fusion Center Concept Takes Root As Congressional Interest Waxes

April 2000
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Army’s Land Warfare Information Activity provides model of profiling approaches to meet new hazards.

Creation of a national operations and analysis hub is finding grudging acceptance among senior officials in the U.S. national security community. This fresh intelligence mechanism would link federal agencies to provide instant collaborative threat profiling and analytical assessments for use against asymmetrical threats. National policy makers, military commanders and law enforcement agencies would be beneficiaries of the hub’s information.

Prodded by a resolute seven-term Pennsylvania congressman and reminded by recent terrorist and cyberthreat activities, the U.S. Defense Department is rethinking its earlier aversion to the idea, and resistance is beginning to crumble. Funding to establish the national operations and analysis hub (NOAH), which would link 28 federal agencies, is anticipated as a congressional add-on in the Defense Department’s new budget. An initial $10 million in funding is likely in fiscal year 2001 from identified research and development accounts.

Spearheading the formation of NOAH is Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives National Security Committee’s military research and development subcommittee. He emphasizes that challenges facing U.S. leaders are beginning to overlap, blurring distinction and jurisdiction. “The increasing danger is both domestic and international.”

Conceptually, NOAH would become a national-level operations and control center with a mission to integrate various imagery, data and analytical viewpoints. The intelligence products would support U.S. actions. “I see NOAH as going beyond the capability of the National Military Command Center and the National Joint Military Intelligence Command. NOAH would provide recommended courses of action that allow the U.S. to effectively meet emerging challenges in near real time,” the congressman illustrates.

“This central national-level hub would be composed of a system of agency-specified mini centers, or ‘pods,’ of participating agencies and services associated with growing national security concerns,” Weldon reports. “NOAH would link the policy maker with action recommendations derived from fused information provided by the individual pod.” Automation and connectivity would allow the pods to talk to each other in a computer-based environment to share data and perspectives on a given situation.

The congressman believes that NOAH should reside within the Defense Department and is modeling the hub’s concept on a U.S. Army organization he closely follows. He says the idea for NOAH comes from officials in several federal agencies. However, it is also based on his own experiences with the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command’s (INSCOM’s) Land Warfare Information Activity (LIWA) and Information Dominance Center, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Patterned after LIWA (SIGNAL, March 2000, page 31), NOAH would display collaborative threat profiling and analysis. With the aid of a variety of electronic tools, the hub would support national actions, Weldon discloses.

The congressman is conscious of other initiatives such as linking counterintelligence groups throughout the community. He also is aware of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) counterterrorism center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) National Infrastructure Protection Center and a new human intelligence (HUMINT) special operations center. “We don’t need another analytical center. Instead, we need a national-level fusion center that can take already analyzed data and offer courses of action for decision making,” he insists.

Weldon’s wide experience in dealing with officials from the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) convince him that policy makers are continuing to work in a vacuum. “Briefings and testimonies are the primary vehicles for transmitting information to leaders. The volume of information germane to national security issues is expanding so rapidly that policy makers are overwhelmed with data,” he claims.

Robust situational awareness of asymmetric threats to national security is a key in assisting leaders, Weldon observes. “Policy makers need an overarching information and intelligence architecture that will quickly assimilate, analyze and display assessments and recommend courses of action for many simultaneous national emergencies,” he declares. The concept of NOAH also calls for virtual communications among policy makers.

Weldon’s plan is for White House, Congress, Pentagon and agency-level leaders each to have a center where they receive, send, share and collaborate on assessments before they act. He calls NOAH the policy maker’s tool. In the collaborative environment, the hub would provide a multi-issue, multiagency hybrid picture to the White House situation room and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

NOAH’s concept also includes support for HUMINT and peacekeeping missions along with battle damage assessment. The same system could later help brace congressional committees and hearings. The new capability would allow application of foreign threat analyses to policy, while providing a hybrid situational awareness picture of the threat, Weldon relates. Industrial efforts of interest to the policy maker could be incorporated, and academia also could be directly linked.

In meetings with high-level FBI, CIA and defense officials, Weldon stressed the need to “acquire, fuse and analyze disparate data from many agencies in order to support the policy maker’s actions against threats from terrorism, [ballistic missile] proliferation, illegal technology diversions, espionage, narcotics [trafficking], information warfare and cyberterrorism.” He is convinced that current collection and analysis capabilities in various intelligence agencies are stovepiped. “To some extent, this involves turf protection, but it clearly hinders policy making.”

Weldon, who was a Russian studies major, offers some of his own recent experiences as examples of why there is a strong need for NOAH. He maintains close contact with a number of Russians and understands their programs and technologies. The congressman is quick to recall vignettes about Russian officials and trips to facilities in the region.

During the recent U.S. combat action involvement in Kosovo, Weldon was contacted by senior Russian officials. Clamoring for Russia to be involved in the peace process, they claimed that otherwise upcoming elections could go to the communists. The Russians proposed a Belgrade meeting with Weldon, congressional colleagues, key Serbian officials and possibly Yugoslave President Slobodan Milosevic.

After the first meeting with key officials from the departments of State and Defense and the CIA, Weldon and other members of Congress went to Vienna, Austria. The State Department objected to a meeting in Belgrade, suggesting instead a neutral site. Before the departure, the Russians informed Weldon that Dragomir Karic, a member of a powerful and wealthy Kosovo family, would attend the meeting. Karic’s brother was a member of the Milosevic regime.

At the end of the Vienna meeting, the Russians and Karic told Weldon that if he would accompany them to Belgrade, Milosevic was prepared to meet with them and publicly embrace a peace agreement concept reached during the Vienna meeting. The agreement would have directly involved Russia in the peace process. A diplomatic official with the U.S. delegation telephoned Washington, D.C., and the State Department objected to the Belgrade trip. The congressman and his colleagues returned home.

As soon as he arrived in Washington, D.C., the FBI telephoned to request a meeting with Weldon to gather details on Karic. It was clear, Weldon reports, they had very little information on him or his family. The following day, the CIA telephoned the congressman and asked for a meeting “about Karic.” Instead, the congressman proposed a joint meeting with CIA and FBI agents in his office. Two officials from each agency attended with a list of questions.

Weldon learned from the agents that they were seeking information on Karic to brief the State Department. When he explained that the information came from the Army and LIWA, the CIA and FBI agents had no knowledge of that organization, he confirms. Before his departure for Vienna, the congressman received a six-page LIWA profile of Karic and his family’s links to Milosevic.

“This is an example of why an organization like NOAH is so critically necessary,” Weldon contends. “LIWA’s Information Dominance Center provides the best capability we have today in the federal government to assess massive amounts of data and develop profiles. LIWA uses its contacts with other agencies to obtain database information from those systems,” he explains. “Some is unclassified and some classified.”

Weldon cites an “extraordinary capability by a former CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency official, who is a LIWA profiler, as one of the keys in LIWA’s success. She does the profiling and knows where to look and which systems to pull information from in a data mining and extrapolation process,” he proclaims. “She makes the system work.”

Weldon intends to use LIWA’s profiling capability as a model for building NOAH. “My goal is to go beyond service intelligence agencies and integrate all intelligence collection. This must be beyond military intelligence, which is too narrow in scope, to provide a governmentwide capability. Each agency with a pod linked to NOAH would provide two staff members assigned at the hub, which would operate continuously. Data brought together in “this cluster would be used for fusion and profiling, which any agency could then request,” he maintains.

NOAH would not belong to the Army, which would continue with its own intelligence capabilities as would the other services. There would only be one fusion center, which would handle input from all federal agencies and from open sources, Weldon explains. “NOAH would handle threats like information operations and examine stability in various regions of the world. We need this ability to respond immediately.” The congressman adds that he recently was briefed by LIWA on very sensitive, very limited and scary profile information, which he describes as “potentially explosive.” In turn, Weldon arranged briefings for the chairman of the House National Security Committee, the Speaker of the House and other key congressional leaders.

“But this kind of profiling capability is very limited now. The goal is to have it on a regular basis. The profiling could be used for sensitive technology transfer issues and information about security breaches,” the congressman allows. LIWA has what he terms the fusion and profiling state-of-the-art capability in the military, “even beyond the military.” Weldon is pressing the case for NOAH among the leaders in both houses of Congress. “It is essential that we create a governmentwide capability under very strict controls.”

Weldon adds that establishing NOAH is not a funding issue; it is a jurisdictional issue. “Some agencies don’t want to tear down their stovepipes. Yet, information on a drug lord, as an example, could be vitally important to help combat terrorism.” He makes a point that too often, federal agencies overlap each other in their efforts to collect intelligence against these threats, or they fail to pool their resources and share vital information. “This redundancy of effort and confusion of jurisdiction only inhibits our nation’s capabilities,” he offers.

NOAH would provide high-bandwidth, virtual connectivity to experts at agency pod sites. Protocols for interagency data sharing would be established and refined in links to all pod sites. The ability to retrieve, collate, analyze and display data would be exercised to provide possible courses of action. A backup site would be established for redundancy, and training would begin on collaborative tools as soon as it is activated.

The hub system would become part of the national policy creation and execution system. The tools available at LIWA would be shared so that every agency would have the same tools. Weldon explains that all agencies would post data on the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) highway in a replicated format sensitive to classification. NOAH’s global network would use the NRO system as a backbone.

NOAH optimizes groups of expertise within each organization—experts who are always on hand regardless of the issue. This approach ties strategic analysis and tactical assessment to a course of action. “Before the U.S. can take action against emerging threats, we must first understand their relationship to one another, their patterns, the people and countries involved and the level of danger posed to our nation,” Weldon says. “That is where NOAH begins.”