Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Appalling Lack Of Oversight At Homeland Security Fusion Centers

The Texas Observer, The Collin County Observer and this blog has been posting about the Collin County and Department Of Homeland Security funded The North Central Texas Fusion System located in Collin County. The Collin County Observer posted another good story about this domestic intelligence gathering operation in the Texas Observer:

Collin County's fusion center, the NCTFS, came under national criticism last month when its newsletter, the Preventive Awareness Bulletin, used ultra-right websites as a basis for declaring that "mainstream Muslim" organizations were gaining success in endeavors such as establishing a sharia law in the US.

The newsletter used inflammatory internet rumors to call for law enforcement to report on legal lobbying and protest activities by Muslin and anti-war groups, prompting a response from the national office of the ACLU.

The controversial PAB was written by Dr. Robert Johnson, the son of U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson and the prime contractor to the fusion center. [Sam Johnson (R) represents the 3rd Congressional District of Texas, which includes the southwestern portion of Collin County and the Northeastern corner of Dallas County.]

The PAB, stamped "For Official Use Only", is published weekly and is distributed to several hundred law enforcement and other first responder agencies in the North Texas region.

This week's edition, acknowledges what I've been hearing from several sources - which is that most of the recipients of the newsletter consider it a waste of time and toss it in the trash without reading it.

This latest PAB leads with a statement that, "In prioritizing our resources, we also understand that you must prioritize your limited time. Therefore, we will no longer be sending weekly bulletins. However, we will continue to send periodic updates, resources, information and analysis that we believe to be of value to you."

Collin County's fusion center, the NCTFS, is not the only fusion center under fire for distributing such spurious and inflammatory warnings to law enforcement agencies.

A newly leaked terrorism assessment from a fusion center in Virginia shows that police and feds are targeting "historically black colleges" as "radicalization nodes" for terrorists. RAW STORY has published the entirety of the 215 page report, available here in PDF format, From RAW STORY:
From page 17 of the report:
While most of these universities are considered urban, two are designated as a Historically Black Colleges and Universities, while Regent University is a private, evangelical Christian institution. While the majority of individuals associated with educational institutions do not engage in activities of interest to the VFC, it is important to note that University-based students groups are recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group.
Though the report singles out "historically black colleges" early on, it also contains an extensive list of peaceful American and International activist groups from nearly all cross-sections of political engagement, placing them side-by-side with groups that have long been known for resorting to violence.

. . ."If we are to believe this exaggerated threat assessment, Virginia's learning and religious institutions must be hotbeds of terrorist activity,' said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in an advisory. "This document and its authors have displayed a fundamental disregard for our constitutional rights of free expression and association. Unfortunately, it's not the first time we've seen such an indifference to these basic rights from local fusion centers. Congress must take the necessary steps to institute real and thorough oversight mechanisms at fusion centers before we reach a point where we are all considered potential suspects."

"There is an appalling lack of oversight at these fusion centers and they are becoming – as the ACLU has repeatedly warned – a breeding ground for overzealous police intelligence activities," said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent, in a release. "The Virginia threat assessment isn’t just disturbing for encouraging police to treat education and religious practices with suspicion, it's bad law enforcement. Lawmakers from all levels of government need to enact legislation to protect against these spying activities that threaten our democracy while doing nothing to improve security."

Recently, a Department of Homeland Security-funded fusion center in Missouri was accused of blatant disregard for the United States Constitution after one of its memos encouraged the surveillance of third party activists, Christians and supporters of Congressman Ron Paul, for their alleged potential status as illegal militia.
The Department of Homeland Security has paid out more than $327 million in funding to local authorities during fiscal years 2004 to 2008 to form 70 centers across the country. The federal government also provides start up personnel and technical support along with the funding. The 70 fusion centers around the U.S., including the one in Collin County gather, compile, store, interpret and then distribute to other government agencies huge amounts of information on the "activities" of local citizens.

(What is a "fusion center?")

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