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Indian Country Key to Security

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DENVER—A Fusion Conference: Not about fashion or music trends or nuclear physics but maybe a sign of the future for Indian country.

Despite occasional skepticism, some tribes coordinate crime and hazard information through 72 National Fusion Centers, many of them located on or near reservations nationwide.

“Threats could be anywhere,” including on tribal lands, said Joseph J. LaPorte, of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Michigan, who is senior tribal advisor for Information Sharing Environment.

He and Gary Van Horn, assistant director of the Office of Law Enforcement and Security, Department of the Interior, were interviewed as they attended the National Fusion Center Conference March 15-17.

State and major urban area fusion centers are owned and operated by state and local entities to receive, analyze and share threat-related information among their partners, including tribes. They receive tips and suspicious activity reporting from local agencies and the public in an “evolving threat environment,” notes conference material.

“It’s very important for Indian country to be included in the information-sharing environment,” La Porte said. “Without this sharing, a gap is created and we all know that gaps are exploited by those with evil intentions. The sooner we close that gap, share information and collaborate, the better off we are as a nation.”

Some tribes have been wary of the fusion process, although an unspecified number of others are participating in the information-sharing program and have done so since its inception about five or six years ago, Van Horn said.

Borders are obvious areas of concern, LaPorte and Van Horn said, including territory of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, whose border, among others’, adjoins Canada, and tribal areas along the border with Mexico, where some of 400,000 yearly crossings take place.

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A fusion center in Arizona supported a five-month investigation led by a tribal partner, the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department, which, with the BIA Division of Drug Enforcement, apprehended 10 suspects and cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy, in the largest drug enforcement operation in the tribe’s history, according to conference material.

“With respect to border security on tribal lands, it’s not about putting people shoulder-to-shoulder along the border, it’s putting people in the right places to interdict the threats—and that effort will be through intelligence-led policing and using the information being shared with fusion centers,” Van Horn said.

Generally, the emphasis is not solely on terrorism-related issues but on crime itself on Indian lands, they said.

“We need government-to-government relationships for effective information-sharing,” said LaPorte. “Ninety-five percent of what takes place in fusion centers is not terrorism-related. It’s local crime. Some tribes have engaged—we have tribal liaison officers in fusion centers. Others are joining now.”

Tribal nations can benefit from information related to all hazards—natural disasters, environmental crime and transient crime—because fusion centers use an “all-hazards approach to sharing information” and work closely with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other branches of government, Van Horn said.

“The situation in Indian country is this,” LaPorte said. “It’s how to share information. Information is proprietary information to individual tribes; how they share and set it up is up to them.”

The conference supported the “ultimate goal of establishing an integrated national network of state and major urban area fusion centers” and was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, FBI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and others.

Federal and private booths at the conference advertised everything from improved tasers to a virtual reality system, which would replace old-time teleconferences with the use of avatars that could collectively confer or could speak to each other privately in a virtual fusion center.