Police 'fusion' centers criticized for tracking Ron Paul, Barr, McKinney supporters
Formed in the wake of 9/11 as a way to search out domestic terrorist threats, fusion centers today are being bombarded with criticism on all sides for things like improper surveillance of the supporters of third-party presidential candidates and an ambiguous mission directive that has lead to power overreaching.
Fusion centers are intelligence databases spread out across the country that collect data on ordinary citizens and synchronize national intelligence collection with local police. There are currently more than 40 fusion centers in the country.
At a hearing Wednesday of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on Islamic-American Relations, spoke against the fusion centers.
“Fusion centers have experienced a mission creep in the last several years, becoming more of a threat than a security device," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office in a statement. "With no overarching guidelines to restrict or direct them, these centers put Americans’ privacy at huge risk. We need our government to take a long, hard look at what’s going into these centers and, frankly, what’s coming out.”
The Department of Homeland Security also agrees that fusion centers pose a number of privacy risks to American citizens. In a December 2008 report, DHS's Privacy Office detailed seven risks posed by the centers.
1. Justification for fusion centers
2. Ambiguous Lines of Authority, Rules, and Oversight
3. Participation of the Military and the Private Sector
4. Data Mining
5. Excessive Secrecy
6. Inaccurate or Incomplete Information
7. Mission Creep
The ACLU has followed possible fusion center improper invasions of privacy, including the surveillance of third-party presidential candidate supporters, religious groups and of anti-war activists. The group is asking the DHS office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to launch independent investigations into the following incidents:
* Inappropriate references "social, religious and political ideologies including support of third party presidential candidates such as Congressman Ron Paul and former Congressman Bob Barr" in a February 2009 report on the "modern militia movement" authored by the Missouri Information Anaysis Center. Report available here.
* A May 2008 report entitled “Universal Adversary Dynamic Threat Assessment” written by a private contractor that labeled environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society and the Audubon Society as "organizations with known or possible links to eco-terrorism.” The report, which also criticized the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, among others, is available here.
* The alleged improper monitoring and dissemination of communications of activists with the DC Anti-War Network.
* The labeling of national and state anti-war groups as "extremists in a report entitled a “Protective Intelligence Bulletin” that was issued in March, 2006 by the DHS Intelligence Branch of the Threat Management Division of the Federal Protective Service. The report is available here.
* A February 2009 report authored by the North Central Texas Fusion System called "Prevention Awareness Bulletin." The report described an alleged conspiracy of among the Muslim civil liberties group, CAIR, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, among others to foster an "environment for terrorist groups to flourish." That report can be read here.
CAIR released the following statement regarding its naming in the Texas Fusion System report.
"CAIR is deeply troubled that the North Central Texas Fusion System bulletin labels monitoring the legal activities of American Muslims exercising their constitutional privileges as ‘imperative,’" their statement said. The group "believes it is time for Congress to conduct a deeper evaluation of our nation’s new domestic surveillance infrastructure.
"Based on this and other recent incidents and initiatives targeting the Muslim community nationwide, we are concerned that the rights of American Muslims to participate fully in our country’s political process and practice their faith free of government intrusion is under assault,” they added.
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