Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano repeatedly misled lawmakers about one of her department’s signature initiatives, the special centers where state and local police share information about terrorism with their federal counterparts, a key lawmaker who helped author a damning report on the project said in an interview Thursday.
A bipartisan report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations states that Ms. Napolitano and her department failed to report to Congress serious problems with the so-called “fusion center” program.
“She was not straightforward to the committee about what she actually knew at the time and what had been documented by [the department’s] own look at the problem,” the subcommittee’s senior Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, told The Washington Times on Thursday.
Even as Ms. Napolitano was telling Congress the fusion centers were a success, two internal government reports found “serious problems” with them, according to the report.
Both assessments — one from an interagency effort led by intelligence officials and the second an internal Homeland Security report — found “weaknesses at most fusion centers they examined,” according to the subcommittee.
Neither assessment found even a single fusion center with all of the basic capabilities needed to fulfill its role in U.S. counterterrorism intelligence efforts, according to the report.
Despite this, “senior [Homeland Security] officials have continued to claim that state and local fusion centers have made significant contributions to its counterterrorism efforts,” the report states.
In submissions to the subcommittee, department officials cited specific “success stories” about terror cases where the centers had a key role.
But investigators found these stories “did not always fit the facts.”
“In no case did a fusion center make a clear and unique intelligence contribution that helped apprehend a terrorist or disrupt a plot,” the report said.
Mr. Coburn said the department had deliberately stonewalled the subcommittee’s oversight function.
Department officials “threw up roadblocks in every area. They didn’t want this report to come out because they knew how bad it was,” he said.
Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler dismissed the report as “out of date, inaccurate and misleading.”
“Not only does the report rely on limited data from two to three years ago in its analysis, much of what it identifies as problematic had been identified and rectified by [Homeland Security] prior to their investigation.”
Another Homeland Security official said the department had cooperated but investigators had misidentified some of the material they were seeking.
The department “provided the committee with the information they asked for,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Even before the report was released on Wednesday, some lawmakers were criticizing the subcommittee’s conclusions.
“I strongly disagree with the report’s core assertion,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.
Mr. Lieberman, a longtime champion of the fusion center program, argued the report failed to take account of recent progress made by many of the centers and several law enforcement associations insisted the fusion centers are working.