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Fusion centers: Invading your privacy at your expense

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The U.S. government has spent up to $1.4 billion of taxpayer money since 2003 to create “threat fusion centers” under the guise of fighting terrorism. Yet a two-year bipartisan report recently released by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that these “fusion centers,” operating under the control of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in efforts to engage national, state and local intelligence, have not yielded any useful information to support federal counterterrorism intelligence efforts.

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Most people who rely on print and TV news probably have never heard of fusion centers. There are as many as 72 of these facilities. 50 state-based and 22 urban centers were set up during the Bush presidency in cooperation between the DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Fusion centers contain large data warehouses that collect information from all 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI, NSA, the military, state and local police agencies, as well as privately owned corporations and organizations. That information includes the cell phone data and emails of every American citizen. There is one of these facilities in Madison near the Dane county regional airport, at 2445 Darwin Road. (See slideshow or view an interactive map of their locations here).

According to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the DHS described its fusion centers as "one of the centerpieces of [its] counterterrorism strategy" and its database was supposed to be a central repository of known or "appropriately suspected" terrorists. In theory, local law enforcement officers, in conjunction with DHS officials, conduct surveillance and write up a report known as a Homeland Intelligence Report (HIR) for the DHS to review. If credible, the DHS would then spread the information to the larger intelligence community.

The Senate report, however, found that the fusion centers failed to uncover a single terrorist threat and only gathered information that is used for ordinary criminal investigations that local law enforcement agencies are well-capable of doing. Even DHS officials told the panel the fusion centers produce “predominantly useless information” and “a bunch of crap.”

Five centers the Senate studied spent their federal terrorism grant money on “hidden ‘shirt button’ cameras,” cell phone tracking systems and other surveillance tools. They also spent taxpayer money on things like “dozens of flat-screen TVs” and SUVs, sometimes claiming that Chevrolet Tahoes were intended to help “respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents.”

Here a few more details of what the Senate report reveals:

  • A DHS intelligence officer filed a draft report about a U.S. citizen who appeared at a Muslim organization to deliver a day-long motivational talk and a lecture on positive parenting.
  • An intelligence officer decided to report on two men who were fishing at the US-Mexican border. A reviewer commented, “I…think that this should never have been nominated for production, nor passed through three reviews.”
  • A report was submitted on a motorcycle group for passing out leaflets informing members of their legal rights. A reviewer commented, "The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment."

And more from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which filed a lawsuit against the FBI, DOJ and NSA regarding fusion centers:

  • A DHS analyst at a Wisconsin fusion center prepared a report about protesters on both sides of the abortion debate, despite the fact that no violence was expected.
  • A Texas fusion center released an intelligence bulletin that described a purported conspiracy between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, the anti-war movement, a former U.S. Congresswoman, the U.S. Treasury Department and hip hop bands to spread Sharia law in the U.S.
  • The same month, but on the other side of the political spectrum, a Missouri Fusion Center released a report on "the modern militia movement" that claimed militia members are "usually supporters" of third-party presidential candidates like Ron Paul and Bob Barr.
  • In March 2008 the Virginia Fusion Center issued a terrorism threat assessment that described the state's universities and colleges as "nodes for radicalization" and characterized the "diversity" surrounding a Virginia military base and the state's "historically black" colleges as possible threats.

Like so many post-9/11 surveillance laws passed under the vague guise of “national security,” these fusion centers violate the civil liberties of ordinary Americans that should be guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and other laws. An entire section of the Senate report is dedicated to Privacy Act violations and the collection of information completely unrelated to any criminal or terrorist activity in the HIRs.

The Senate report and the activity of fusion centers makes it clear that these facilities are designed to spy on American citizens, invading their privacy while doing nothing to stop terrorism. With all the talk in the Presidential campaigns about frivolous spending, perhaps these worthless facilities should be addressed, instead of Medicare or Social Security.

This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it is reality. In fact, the one episode of “Conspiracy Theory” done by former navy SEAL and Governor Jesse Ventura that dealt with these fusion centers was refused to be aired by TruTV. In that episode he interviews a young woman from Missouri who was put on the terrorism watch list by her local fusion center for supporting Ron Paul in the Republican primary election. (See “banned” video to the left).

This is yet more evidence that America is turning from a democracy or constitutional republic into a corporate fascist state. Just look at the 14 defining characteristics of fascism and decide for yourself.

Sources:

EFF.org

LA Times

Homeland Security and Government Affairs: Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Constitution Project

Public Intelligence

Senate report on state and local fusion centers

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU complaint

Conspiracy Theory – You Tube, banned episode

14 defining characteristics of fascism

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