We’ve known for a long time that fusion centers are “pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions,” so it’s nice that the Senate finally figured that out and release a report validating it.
There are 77 of these centers around the country, created to coordinate the sharing of information about potential terrorist threats between and among federal, state and local agencies, as well as private entities. In truth though, most of the information shared or developed at fusion centers had little to do with terrorism, but a lot to do with invading our privacy.
The report is the result of a two year long bi-partisan investigation of a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee led by Senators Levin (D-MI) and Coburn (R-OK). These guys are not known as champions of civil liberties – so the fact that they were shocked says an awful lot. In a press release, Senator Coburn said,
“it’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties.”
The investigation found that reports developed by fusion centers were “shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”
Well, we could have told them that! We’ve had to rely on leaks to see fusion center reports, but we do have a favorite: the Virginia Fusion Center’s 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment that seemed to peg everyone in Virginia as a potential terrorist – including the Girl Scouts.
Read my summary of the report here, or the full report here. The Senate report criticizes the Department of Homeland Security for lax oversight, but the folks at DHS are pretty good at ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions themselves. They’ve produced some pretty stunningly bizarre intelligence reports of their own. Again, we have a favorite: a 2009 “Rightwing Extremist Threat” report identifying returning veterans as potential terrorists. (See that one here). Levin and Coburn noted that DHS can’t even say how much money they have spent on fusion centers, only offering an estimate of between $289 million and $1.4 billion (that’s a $1 billion margin of error). Nor could DHS offer any evidence showing how fusion centers had helped prevent any acts of terrorism. Mike Sensa, the president of the National Fusion Center Association (which advocates on behalf of fusion centers) made a pathetic attempt to justify fusion centers by telling the Washington Post that over the past decade, those 77 fusion centers have “shared with the Terrorist Screening Center some 200 “pieces of data” that provided “actionable intelligence.”