Fusion Centers Police People Without Plots to Blow Up the US
The US Senate subcommittee’s October 3rd report “Federal Support for and Involvement in State and Local Fusion Centers” indicates that federal intelligence agencies collaborating with state and local fusion centers “have not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts”. After revelations by the 9/11 Commission that intelligence agencies at different levels were not “connecting the dots by sharing terrorism clues they had in their possession”, the Department of Homeland Security devised a new system. Fusion Centers were created to allow for the proper transmission of relevant terrorist information between all levels of intelligence and law enforcement. In effect, intelligence gathered on terrorists would be shared at the local, state and federal level.
Between 2003 and 2007 77 fusion centers were said to have been created. The US Senate subcommittee found that DHS officials’ public claims about the fusion centers were not always accurate. Five of the fusion centers listed as federal funding recipients did not in fact exist. Since their inception fusion centers have received a total of $1.4 billion in funding, a figure deemed “wasteful” in the Senate report.
Since taking office the Obama administration supported by DHS secretary Janet Napolitano have continued funding fusion centers despite the lack of evidence that they have improved national security. Fusion centers have not once been involved in discovering a terrorist plot. What fusion centers have succeeded at is producing an overwhelming amount of “irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS.” As one DHS official told investigators the fusion centers “produce a bunch of crap”. Like all excrement, the crap produced by fusion centers is a dangerous byproduct.
In addition to finding the fusion centers to be a financial drain and inept at producing intelligence to thwart terrorist operations the Senate subcommittee found that intelligence gathering practices at fusion centers were done without oversight, leading to gross violations of citizens’ rights. The Code of Federal Regulations states that federally-funded surveillance projects may gather and maintain information on people “only if there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and that information is relevant to that conduct or activity.” The Federal Regulations also provides that intelligence officers may not collect information on individuals or groups religious, political or social views nor may they monitor individuals or groups associations or activities unless their is a reasonable suspicion that the “subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct or activity.”
Assembling to protest war, demonstrate against inequality or convene to discuss grievances against the government have never constituted criminal activity, at least not legally or rather according to laws that the public can see. A suit brought against the Boston Police Department and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) which serves as Massachusetts fusion center by the ACLU reveals that surveillance and intelligence officers have been gathering extensive information on peaceful protesters and political activists in the Boston area. Electronic records known as “intelligence reports” have been on file at BRIC since 2007. Despite department guidelines that require all intelligence that does not pertain to criminal activity to be destroyed in 90 days, BRIC maintained its files on non-criminals for as long as five years. Information on protesters and their activities is being collected by a consortium of local, state and federal officers. While no connection between the protest groups activities and criminal or terrorist conduct has been demonstrated intelligence amasses on dissenting individuals. According to the ACLU report Policing Dissent: “the BRIC files list the non-violent actions of peace groups and activists under the heading “Criminal Act”, with labels such as “Extremists”, “Civil Disturbance” and “Home-Sec Domestic” in reports that track groups and people not engaged in crime but merely exercising their constitutional right to peaceful dissent.”
The implications of such records existing are troublesome, especially considering the purpose that fusion centers were created for in the first place-to share intelligence across agencies at the local, state and federal levels. Not only is surveilling citizens unsuspected of crimes a flagrant violation of the Privacy Act and civil liberties, it puts innocent citizens at risk of becoming part of federal investigations. As I reported in a post earlier this week Leah Lynn Plante is being held in federal prison not because she committed a crime, but rather because she refused to provide information to a federal grand jury about the activities of the Northwest political activists. It is conceivable that any Boston activists ensnared in one of BRIC’s intelligence dossiers could later be subpoenaed before a federal court as a material witness. If investigators thought that person may be able to provide information about a suspected criminal or “domestic terrorist” there is nothing to stop them from pursuing their investigations.
The problem with fusion centers is not that they try to intercept terrorist plots but that in so doing they ensnare innocent citizens shopping at Home Depot (watch out when purchasing home use chemicals here, you may be a dot to connect in a home made explosives investigation), visiting the Statue of Liberty or attending an Occupy protest. Without vigilant oversight these centers are operating more and more as domestic surveillance entities with vast powers to track political dissidence. Peace activist Richard Colbath-Hess, who is represented by the ACLU in a lawsuit challenging the legality of intelligence gathering on him by BRIC said “people are scared. If the police are monitoring us, who wants to take the risk.” The possibility of winding up in some secret government intelligence database is daunting and enough to discourage many people from expressing their grievances about the powers that dominate today. The chilling aspect of arbitrary intelligence gathering has a way of quelling dissent. Hilary Davis of the Rhode Island ACLU noted the fine line fusion center straddle between counterterrorism agencies and local law enforcement, “Fusion Centers by their nature bridge a perceived gap between local law enforcement and national security/counterterrorism efforts, so the information obtained by Centers has been used a number of times to deal with issues which likely do not amount to terrorism.”
Despite the Senate subcommittee’s report that DHS funding for fusion centers wastes a “crap” load of money on a programs that have proven not only impressively inept at detecting terrorist activities but have in fact flooded operable counterterrorism agencies with erroneous information their funding continues unabated. It is hard to imagine why such a wasteful and ineffective program eludes the budget cutting axe especially during the spectacle of deficit reduction debates. I asked if Ms. Davis if local law enforcement agencies were benefitting from enhanced policing capabilities as a result of fusion center funding. She responded, “The opportunity certainly exists for local law enforcement to benefit, and if the Fusion Centers were hindering law enforcement in any way I do not believe they would be quiet about it.” But they have been quiet, too quiet as they gather intelligence on innocent citizens.
Policing dissent is prototypical police state behavior. When intelligence gathering centers designed to track terrorists begin tracking you “national security” suffers a lethal attack.