Close the Fusion Centers, Free the American People

leo_reynolds_spy_modified

[Artwork adapted slightly from Leo Reynolds on Flickr]

After the 9/11 attacks, a traumatized nation considered whether the attacks could have been thwarted by coordinating intelligence-gathering better between the FBI and CIA. From that impulse grew the fusion centers, of which there are now at least 72 77 86 across the country. Us lucky SOBs here in Massachusetts get two, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120 and the Commonwealth Fusion Center at 124 Acton Street, Maynard, MA 01754. The idea was that they would be able to thwart terrorist attacks before they occur, by gathering representatives from different agencies, and in some cases the military and the private sector, together to report on “suspicious activity”. In practice, it has not worked.

Thing is, actual terrorists are relatively thin on the ground. A network of 72 77 86 fusion centers might handle three genuine cases of terrorism between them in any given year. That’s not enough to enable each fusion center to show that it’s doing anything at all. What’s a good bureaucrat to do?

Well, one thing you could do would be to stop spending so much money trying to anticipate terrorist attacks or ginning up your own terrorist plots to make your numbers, and to spend more money on things that would save more lives, like public health…

But seriously now, the obvious and surveillance-state-compliant strategy is to expand the definition of who is a terrorist to keep the dollars flowing.

Just in the last few months, fusion centers have defined urban explorers, Occupy sympathizers (Austin) and opportunistic car stereo thieves (Milwaukee) as suitable targets for “intelligence collection”. Targets have previously included (and please don’t take this as an exhaustive list): Muslim lobbyists (North Texas), pro- and anti-abortion activists (Wisconsin), anti-death penalty and anti-war activists (Maryland), anarchists and anti-war activists (Washington), all third-party voters and Ron Paul supporters (Missouri), historically black college campuses and hacktivists (Virginia); and, just in case you thought that our fusion centers were more enlightened, veterans’ groups, social justice groups, Occupy Boston and anti-war activists (Massachusetts).

Unsurprisingly, given the groups targeted, fusion centers have had no luck whatsoever in actually thwarting any terrorist attacks. A recent US Senate report makes them a poster child for wasteful federal spending. The report shows that with over one billion federal dollars spent, all we have to show for it is a vast number of reports that are too late or too off-topic to have actually been useful in preventing terrorism.

So, the federal government has closed them all down and apologized to the groups concerned…oh, that hasn’t happened yet? It’s almost as if there are deeply entrenched interests preventing programs from closing merely because they VIOLATE CIVIL LIBERTIES AND DON’T ACTUALLY WORK.

The new National Fusion Center Association responded furiously to the Senate report. Summarized, their response was, “We are so too useful, because other people in government say we are.” Well, that’s all right then. How could one possibly doubt the neutrality or commitment to civil liberties of the Major County Sheriffs Association, which proudly counts Joe Arpaio among its members?

To let the NFCA know how you feel, you can drop a line to their executive director, W. Ross Ashley the Third, here.

And if you’d like to join Digital Fourth’s Massachusetts-based campaign to Close the Fusion Centers, drop us a line here.

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