Excellent article on Fusion Centers from The Freeman
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported on July 25 that “there are 72 fusion centers around the nation, analyzing and disseminating data and information of all kinds. That is one for every state and others for large urban cities.”
What is a fusion center?
The answer depends on your perspective. If you work for the Department of Homeland Security, it is a federal, state, local, or regional data-coordination units, designed to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism and anti-crime data in order to make America safer. If you are privacy or civil-rights advocate, it is part of a powerful new domestic surveillance infrastructure that combines data from both the public and private sectors to track innocent people and so makes Americans less safe from their own government. In that respect, the fusion center is reminiscent of the East German stasi, which used tens of thousands of state police and hundreds of thousands of informers to monitor an estimated one-third of the population.
The history of fusion centers provides insight into which answer is correct.
Fusion centers began in 2003 under the administration of George W. Bush as a joint project between the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The purpose (pdf) is to coordinate federal and local law enforcement by using the “800,000 plus law enforcement officers across the country” whose intimate awareness of their own communities makes them “best placed to function as the ‘eyes and ears’ of an extended national security community.” The fusion centers are hubs for the coordination. By April 2008 there were 58.
The growth has continued under the Obama administration. Indeed, Obama has also continued Bush’s concealment of domestic intelligence activity by threatening to veto legislation that authorizes broader congressional oversight or review of intelligence agencies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). As a result of that threat, the GAO provision was removed from the Intelligence Authorization Act.
Due to secrecy, it is difficult to describe a typical fusion center. But if the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center is typical, this is what one looks like.
Indiana’s center has essentially become an arm of Indiana law enforcement…. It has 31 full-time staffers and two part-time employees. Some … are state employees. Others are assigned to the center from other agencies, such as the FBI, Transportation Security Administration, and Marion County Sheriff’s Department. They are joined by workers from the Department of Correction, the Indiana National Guard, the Indiana State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and local campus police…. There are also private sector analysts on contract. Previously those analysts were from EG&G Technical Services of California. The most recent contract with EG&G called for payment of $1.1 million….
Fusion centers invite reports from public employees such as firemen, ambulance drivers, and sanitation workers as well as from the private sector such as hospitals and neighborhood watch groups. They often operate tip hotlines; this means a “suspect’s” name could be submitted by a disgruntled employee, a hostile neighbor, or an ex-spouse who seeks child custody.
What or who is targeted by this sweeping coordination of data?
To get an idea, let’s look at the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) program, which the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said “should be a national model.” In June 2008 the departments of Justice and Homeland Security recommended expansion of the LAPD program to other cities.
In April 2008 the Wall Street Journal reported on a new LAPD policy that compelled officers to report “suspicious behaviors” to the local fusion center. LAPD Special Order #11, dated March 5, 2008, defined a list of 65 suspicious behaviors, including using binoculars, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” abandoning a vehicle, taking notes, and espousing extremist views. Local police were converted into domestic surveillance agents.