Oklahoma's information fusion center has a broader role today than it did when it began operations four years ago.
David Stenhouse, the center's director, said the reason for the creation of this center and others like it across the country was the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Now, in addition to serving as a clearinghouse for information about potential terrorism, it also has a role in working against serious crime in general.
“Job number one is preventing that from happening again,” Stenhouse said, pointing to an enlarged photo hanging on the center's wall of the Twin Towers engulfed in flames. “Three thousand people died, ... so, job one is the terrorism piece, whether it's
Stenhouse said fusion centers aren't exactly law enforcement agencies, but function more as centers for information gathering and distribution. He also said the agency doesn't spy on U.S. citizens — one of the criticisms of fusion centers by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We don't have any black helicopters,” he said. “What we do is take threat information, analyze it, and then send it to the appropriate agencies.”
Stenhouse said any information sent out of the office is screened by a privacy officer, himself and at least one other staff member to ensure that privacy laws aren't breached.
Oklahoma's fusion center is housed inside the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's headquarters, 6600 N Harvey Place, and includes a secured room where secret information from the federal government is received.
A central office includes a small room filled with monitors and TV screens, relaying data to an analyst. Its operations are funded, for the most part, by grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Stenhouse said the federal agency provided Oklahoma's fusion center with about $400,000, which he said was used to pay the salaries of four analysts and training purposes. His salary — and that of other support staff — is paid by OSBI.
Today, there are 72 information fusion centers in the U.S., Stenhouse said, with larger, more populous states housing multiple offices to share intelligence.
Stenhouse said the fusion center became busy recently when an improvised bomb was found attached to a natural gas pipeline near Okemah.
“We took that information and provided it to who we thought needed to have it,” he said. “And we don't suggest or tell them what to do with it — we just provide the product to them.”
Because al-Qaida and similar groups favor multiple attacks at once, Stenhouse said numerous parties were told about the bomb being found near Okemah.
“You want to alert
Stenhouse said the fusion centers also act on “serious criminal threats.” He said individuals wanted for serious crimes such as murder can come into the state to hide with friends or family, putting others at risk.
The fusion center even has helped spread the word about particularly vicious scams operating in the state, Stenhouse said.
“We always ask the Oklahoma question first,” he said.
“And one of the main things we do is identify serious criminal threats in our state, as well as the terrorism piece,” he said. “We're here to watch out for Oklahomans first and foremost.”