Tag Archives: September 11

Your Police Dept May Spy On You “For Situational Awareness”

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“Fusion centers” are intelligence-aggregation operations, created after the 9/11 Commission found that, had agencies (namely the FBI and CIA) engaged in more free and open sharing of information, the terrorist attacks could have been prevented. (The laws in 2001 permitted sharing that would have prevented the attacks; but the agencies were overly cautious about sharing data out of turf concerns.)

There are now at least 78 fusion centers dispersed throughout the United States. They claim to focus mostly on collecting intelligence of activity that may have a “nexus” to terrorism, but also criminal activity more broadly. But they operate in almost total darkness, with virtually no transparency. The little we do know suggests that fusion centers neither prevent terrorist acts nor respect First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

The Intercept reported last week on the fusion centers’ targeting of Black Lives Matter protests, but there are also many other examples, going back to the fusion centers’ founding. The ACLU of Massachusetts found that the Boston Regional Intelligence Center — one of two fusion centers in the Bay State — was spying on antiwar groups; the Austin Regional Intelligence Center was caught monitoring peaceful animal rights activists protesting a circus (I reported on this for MuckRock); and a fusion center in Nebraska — the Nebraska Information Analysis Center — has a special network focusing on activists opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. They justify such activities by claiming that they are monitoring “for situational awareness”, and that this doesn’t constitute surveillance. In fact, that’s exactly what surveillance is; “For Your Situational Awareness” is military jargon for obtaining the intelligence needed to make appropriate battlefield decisions.

Given the lack of sunlight surrounding the everyday activities of the dozens of fusion centers throughout the country, we decided we want to find out more. Naturally, we filed a public records request. We wanted to find out where our other local fusion center — the Commonwealth Fusion Center run by the Massachusetts State Police — gets their intelligence; who has authorized access to their databases; whether any errors in their databases have been discovered; and what kind of information the CFC has on myself and Alex Marthews, the national chair of Restore the Fourth.

Here is what we found:

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Quit Throwing 9/11 In Our Faces

This letter makes me sick at heart. The very people who were supposed to defend our country, who even now parade onto talk shows and give interviews about the NSA scandal like people of authority, stand revealed as corrupt and depraved.

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They failed to prevent 9/11. Perhaps even then the volume of data was so great that they simply didn’t notice, or were unable to integrate, the information they had. But they should have been able to learn from their failure, and instead, they covered it up, and their cover-ups and their lies have cost many thousands more lives. Michael Hayden, Dick Cheney, Robert Mueller, and all the people who have made it so easy for the NSA to lie to us for so long, shame on all of you.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The NSA had collected critical information (relating to calls made by AA-77 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar from the US to Yemen) that could have thwarted 9/11, but decided for unknown reasons not to share that information beyond the NSA. They then covered it up, instead of admitting it so that we could learn from it and improve what we were doing.

Before 9/11, the NSA had developed a surveillance program called THINTHREAD, which would have integrated intelligence findings while automatically encrypting all US persons’ communications, and which would have required a court order based on probable cause for their decryption. Gen. Michael Hayden, the same Hayden whose understanding of the Fourth Amendment was so poor that he insisted that it doesn’t contain the words “probable cause,” scotched THINTHREAD in favor of unencrypted bulk surveillance of Americans (STELLARWIND), and a boondoggle called TRAILBLAZER that previewed our occupation of Iraq by failing massively while massively enriching Hayden’s contractor friends.

Now, thanks to their addiction to mass collection, the NSA has admitted that it is indeed drowning in data it cannot process. Its apologists scurry round spreading fear about reforms that would actually make their work more restrained and effective, and in a last, desperate throw of the dice, they are invoking the shadow of 9/11 – the same 9/11 that their bulk surveillance failed to thwart last time around. These days, the only terrorist attacks they seem capable of thwarting are the ones they gin up in advance, but no matter: making the NSA conform to the Constitution will not KEEP US SAFE.

You know that on this blog I tend not to use the swears. This time, I do use the swears:

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