*Domestic Surveillance in Your Backyard - What's Wrong With Fusion Centers?* Forum in Tucson
Earlier this week (5/5/08), the Arizona ACLU hosted a panel discussion about Fusion Centers featuring former FBI Special Agent and Policy Counsel for The ACLU, Mike German, and Department of Homeland Security Director of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Programs, David Gersten. What follows are some personal notes and observations from the raucous meeting of about 50 people at the University of Arizona College of Law.
According to the ACLU, "Fusion Centers are state, local and regional institutions that [were] originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies..." An audience member pointed out that Fusion Centers (under different names) existed before 9/11 but they were poorly funded and had no teeth. Generous funding of Fusion Centers only began after the release of the 9/11 Commission Report in response to recommendations by the Commission to improve sharing of intelligence information because the astonishingly successful attacks of 9/11 were ascribed to "intelligence failures" and "failures of imagination."
Broadly speaking, DHS employee Gersten took the position that Fusion Centers are necessary in a post-9/11 world and that we need good (i.e., well-trained, well intentioned) people in government to run them. Former FBI special agent, German took the position that Fusion Centers have the potential to erode and abuse our rights and that extensive checks and oversight are needed. Gersten said that his role in DHS is to properly train people who work in Fusion Centers regarding our remaining rights and liberties so that there is more consistency and fairness from state to state.
Authorizing statutes for Fusion Centers come from the various state police and state intelligence bureaus as Fusion Centers evolved out of state police and state emergency planning centers. Fusion Centers are now funded from state and Federal sources but are managed at the state level. There are fifty Fusion Centers, each with a unique mix of agencies, personnel, procedures, technology, etc.. In principle, Fusion Centers are supposed to promote the sharing of intelligence information in all directions among corporate, military, local/state police, and Federal intelligence and security agencies. It was noted by German that if most of the information flows from the Feds to the locals, then the end result will be the "Federalization" of our police and that this is exemplified and exacerbated by the delivery of "actionable intelligence information" from the Feds upon which local law enforcement is expected to act. The working concept of Fusion Centers is based on frames such as "intelligence driven policing."
In all states except Massachusetts, a person can make a FOIA request of their Fusion Center. This might be forewarning that other states will similarly restrict access to information. One astute audience member asked "who is the enemy? are we the enemy?" The same audience member asked for the definition of terrorism and Gersten said that there was not good agreement on a single definition but that his definition was that terrorism was an act involving violence to further an ideological purpose. "Mission creep" was cited by the panelists as a problem with Fusion Center implementation to date. Initially Fusion Centers were tasked to deal with intelligence related to terrorism, but since terrorism is so rare, the mission of Fusion Centers was broadened to encompass "all crimes." Most recently, the scope of Fusion Center concerns has further expanded to cover "all crimes and all hazards."
Regarding Fusion Centers, I came away thinking that laws are not guiding and protecting us here, rather "procedures" and "guidelines" and perhaps ill-informed "personal discretion" are all that separates us from abuse by our government. This is surely a perilous situation. For example, German pointed out that California guidelines to law enforcement for spotting behavior typical of terrorists includes watching for people who are "taking photographs with no aesthetic content" and looking for people who are making notes and referring to maps. Some comic relief occurred when DHS employee Gersten said that he home-schools his children and he does not want to be rounded up as a "radical" some day in the future.
Another problem discussed by German and Gersten is that corporate interests including those with "critical infrastructure" participate in Fusion Centers and share intelligence information - information not available to the public. One woman in the audience said that while we can petition the government for our personal FBI reports she saw no way to check and correct information in Fusion Center records. Another woman got laughs when she said that if the domestic spying and policing were to end in the United States, our economy would collapse. An audience member claimed that a recent survey showed that police have an average IQ of 104 and that a national security apparatus based on this kind of intelligence would be undesirable.
An elderly man said that he used to live in South Africa and that the Patriot Act was a near-carbon copy of the horrific anti-communist legislation imposed on apartheid South Africa. One audience member stood up and said that he was a former Arizona Highway Patrolman and that he no longer had any trust in law enforcement at any level. Even though this was an ACLU meeting, the word "Constitution" was not spoken during the entire panel discussion. It was not until the meeting was opened for questions that another (active duty) police officer made an impassioned statement that she had taken an oath to protect The Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic and that she wonders if she can continue to fulfill her oath. Mike German echoed her sentiment by saying that he gave up his job at the FBI, in part, because he could not fulfill his oath to protect and defend The Constitution. I noted that all references to The Constitution in the closing remarks by an ACLU spokesman were not about "defending" but were rather about "restoring" The Constitution and "returning" the country to Constitutional law.
Gersten said that civil rights and privacy abuse complaints about Fusion Centers can be addressed to his office [Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL)] in the Department of Homeland Security. The ACLU distributed a form-letter for audience members to complete and send to their Arizona representatives calling for "pointed inquiry and debate over the Arizona fusion center, The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), to examine whether it represents an effective approach to increasing the security of this state."
According to our Fusion Center called the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), associated with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, ACTIC is "engaged with power, water companies, chemical sector, transportation such as trucking and rail transport; partnership with FBI's Infraguard; also works with Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM) which has developed relationships with the private sector, through the creation of the Arizona Emergency Response Commission (AZSERC), which has involved over 100 participants representing all 23 identified sectors, including over 70 companies." Your state probably has a similar Fusion Center that is described with similar language.
A posting by Simuvac (http://www.911blogger.com/node/5330) including an article from the Washington Post gives background on Fusion Centers. Mike German is a co-author with Jay Stanley of the the 2007 ACLU report [What's Wrong With Fusion Centers?]. While numerous local ACLU members are regular attendees at 911TruthTucson educational events, the ACLU at the national level appears to take the unsettling position that 9/11 happened according to the official story and that Fusion Centers are an unfortunate evil that flows from 9/11. Instead of exposing the official lies of 9/11, the ACLU, at the national level, accepts the lies while informing us about the excesses of our modern police-state. The ACLU is right to warn us that Fusion Centers are serious potential sources of civil rights abuse and that accountability and oversight are needed. Yet the door remains open for the ACLU to help expose the truth about 9/11 -- then, perhaps Fusion Centers will simply vanish as the fantasy they are based on is revealed. Perhaps the ACLU will have to revise it's mission statement if we are in a state of national emergency and if Continuity of Government keeps part or all of The Constitution in suspension and if a unitary executive prevails. In closing and in defense of the ACLU, if they had not held this excellent educational forum, no one would have. Tucson has about a million people and now fifty of them know something about Fusion Centers. Support your local ACLU.