It focused on the Department of Homeland Security's beloved "fusion centers" -- clusters of state and local law enforcement people set up to collect intelligence on terrorist and other criminal activity in their area and then to send reports on their findings to DHS for evaluation.
Amazingly, after concluding -- mildly but pointedly -- that the utility of the terrorism-related reporting from the fusion centers has been "questionable," the committee recommends that even more money should be spent on them. Local intelligence reporting efforts, it proclaims, should be reformed to eliminate duplication, the training and numbers of intelligence reporters should be improved, and better efforts to evaluate their output should be put into place.
Never once does the report consider that the reason intelligence reporting on the terrorists lurking in our midst is so limited in quantity and so abysmal in overall quality is that there is virtually nothing to report. Absence of evidence, it implies, cannot possibly be evidence of absence. We just have to work harder to find what surely must be out there.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has called the fusion centers "one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy," and DHS's top intelligence official deems them "a vital tool for strengthening homeland security."
No one seems to know how much these centerpieces, or vital tools, have cost. DHS estimates it has awarded somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion for fusion centers since 2003 -- an uncertainty gap of over a billion dollars that is impressive even by Washington standards.
Moreover, it is not even clear how many fusion centers exist. DHS claims there are 72, but at least four of these were "not functional at a level to receive a visit," including one which "was not operational" at all. One official helpfully suggested to the committee staff that some may operate as "virtual fusion centers."
To evaluate the output from the centers -- whether real or virtual -- investigators shuffled through fusion center intelligence reports submitted to DHS over a 13-month period in 2009 and 2010. There were 610 of these from 31 states -- centers in the other 19 submitted none at all -- and more than half came from just two states: Texas and California.
Of the 574 unclassified reports filed, 188 were "cancelled" by DHS reviewers, generally because they contained "nothing of value" or simply failed to be devoid of "any actual intelligence." While the overall cancellation rate for the reports was around 30 percent, nearly half of those dealing with terrorism were rejected out of hand.
That didn't leave many. Of the 386 reports accepted, most relayed information from arrests or encounters relating to drug trafficking and alien smuggling. Only 94 -- considerably less than two a week -- related "in some way" to potential terrorist activity.
Moreover, more than a quarter of these 94 reports simply duplicated information already known to the FBI, and "some were based on information drawn from publicly available websites or dated public reports." One, in fact, cheerfully relayed information from a Department of Justice press release that had been published months earlier.
More importantly, says the report, DHS has "struggled" to identify a clear example in which a fusion center provided intelligence that helped disrupt a terrorist plot. And, when investigators looked at the four "success stories" touted by DHS, they were "unable to confirm" that the fusion centers' contributions were "as significant as DHS portrayed them; were unique to the intelligence and analytical work expected of fusion centers; or would not have occurred absent a fusion center."
But things are considerably more problematic than that.
The report insists that, whatever the investigatory irrelevance of fusion centers, local and federal law enforcement have nonetheless "thwarted dozens of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and against U.S. interests in the past decade."