Senate panel: DHS fusion centers produce ‘predominantly useless information’ and ‘a bunch of crap’
By End the Lie
A newly released report from the Senate’s bipartisan Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reveals that the claims of Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security (DHS), surrounding the United States’ so-called fusion centers are nothing short of outright lies.
This is far from surprising to me since in September of last year a report from the Homeland Security Policy Institute revealed the fact that information received from fusion centers “often lacks value.”
Fusion centers are also involved in rolling out nationwide biometrics systems as well as centralized biometrics databases coordinated by the federal government.
In the past, Napolitano has claimed that fusion centers are “one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy,” while reality paints a completely different picture.
The Senate panel, which combed over 80,000 fusion center documents, determined that they could not “identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.”
Furthermore, unnamed DHS officials told the senate panel that fusion centers put out “predominantly useless information” and “a bunch of crap,” according to Danger Room.
This is somewhat surprising coming from any DHS official given that their official risk assessments have a tendency to wildly underestimate actual risks, but perhaps even DHS employees are beginning to see the absurdity of these fusion centers.
Hilariously, an internal assessment from 2010 – which DHS unsurprisingly did not share with Congress – reveals that a whopping third of all fusion centers do not even have defined procedures for sharing intelligence, which is “one of the prime reasons for their existence.”
Even more troubling is the fact that the Senate has found that at least four fusion centers identified by DHS “do not exist.”
The sad reality is that the Senate’s finding, as noted above, is not in any way shocking. For instance, the Constitution Project (TCP), a national, bipartisan think tank determined, “without effective limits on data collection, storage and use, fusion centers can pose serious risks to civil liberties, including rights of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion, racial and religious equality, privacy and the right to be free from unnecessary government intrusion.”
Unfortunately, no effective limits have been put in place and even with that unchecked power the fusion centers have not been able actually accomplish anything meaningful.
Even after allegedly putting some privacy protections in place in 2009, the Senate panel found “DHS continued to store troubling intelligence reports from fusion centers on U.S. persons, possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.”
In reviewing fusion center intelligence reports, the Senate found that a third either “lacked any useful information” on terrorist plots or alternatively represented a potential violation of civil liberties.
In other cases, reports sat around for months until the information contained in them was “obsolete” by the time they were actually published.
Unsurprisingly, much of the information produced by fusion centers does not even relate to terrorism. In fact, “most information” from fusion centers was actually dealing with ordinary crime, such as “drug, cash or human smuggling,” according to the Senate’s findings.
While fusion centers are supposed to only analyze and spread information, they have been found to be collecting information as well like a leaflet put out by the Mongols motorcycle club in California that instructed members to be “courteous” to police.
Another piece of clearly useless information collected by the centers was a notation which said that a U.S. citizen was speaking at a mosque, “without any derogatory information about either the citizen or the mosque,” Danger Room notes.
Five of the fusion centers studied by the Senate spent their federal terrorism grant money on various surveillance tools like “hidden ‘shirt button’ cameras” and cellphone tracking systems.
Records show that fusion centers also spent a great deal of funds on “dozens of flat-screen TVs” and even cars, sometimes claiming that Chevrolet Tahoes were acquired to help “respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents.”
Oddly enough, some fusion center money was used to purchase equipment for medical examiners, clearly far from the intended use of the funds.
Ultimately, the Senate panel discovered that DHS officials were “unable to produce a complete and accurate tally of the expense of its support for fusion centers.”
The cost estimates range wildly from $289 million to $1.4 billion, showing that Homeland Security really has no clue how much money they’re spending on “one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy,” which actually fails to accomplish anything.
Danger Room notes that one of the major issues in fusion centers is attempting to conduct rapid analysis while still honoring our civil liberties, although they note that this would only be problematic “if the fusion enters were actually uncovering terrorist plots,” which they clearly aren’t.
Of the 610 draft reports produced between April 2009 and April 2010 reviewed by the Senate, only 94 were actually related to terrorism in any way with 188 of them being “cancelled” either because they did not contain “useful information” or “for running afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties or Privacy Act protections.”
“Of the 94 reports most were published months after they were received; more than a quarter appeared to duplicate a faster intelligence-sharing process administered by the FBI; and some were based on information drawn from publicly available websites or dated public reports,” the Senate panel found.
One of the more hilarious cases is a November 2009 report which stated that Anwar al-Awlaki praised the Fort Hood shooting a whopping four days after it was reported by the Los Angeles Times. It just gets worse when we learn that “a subsequent performance review for the [report's] author cited this report as a signature accomplishment.”
Amazingly, one third of the fusion centers investigated by the Senate did not even “mention terrorism in their mission statements.”
Instead of actually engaging in counterterrorism activities, the fusion centers just take federal grant money and use it to work with local law enforcement in their regular activities while claiming that terrorists “would commit precursor crimes before an attack.”
Personally, I think that the people working at the fusion centers likely have come to the realization that terrorism isn’t anywhere near the threat it’s made out to be. This would make their lack of interest in terrorism completely understandable.
When the fusion centers actually do try to fight terrorism, they end up falling flat on their faces.
For instance, in the case of the Illinois water pump allegedly hacked by Russians, they were forced to quickly backtrack and now has resulted in DHS looking even more foolish than they have previously.
“Another involved the Arizona fusion center, which mistakenly reported in January 2011 that the would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was connected to an ‘anti-Semitic, anti-government group’ called American Renaissance,” reports Danger Room. “The ‘group’ in question is actually a newsletter, and the fusion center’s director had to publicly state the analysis shouldn’t have been released.”
The most famous incident is likely the so-called MIAC report which claimed that supporters of Ron Paul and libertarians in general are, essentially, linked to the “modern militia movement” and likely violent extremists.
Amazingly, the Senate report would not go nearly as far as it should in failing to recommend the closure of fusion centers. The Senate panel argued for greater oversight and clarified mission statements, which, in my opinion, is going to do nothing to actually make fusion centers worth the money.
The simple fact is that we do not have the money to spend, the terrorist threat doesn’t exist and there is no legitimate need for the fusion centers and the Senate’s findings make that painfully clear.
To read the full report, please visit Public Intelligence.
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