April 30, 2009
Following the American Civil Liberties Union’s criticism regarding a controversial Virginia Fusion Center terrorism assessment report, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine has announced that he will investigate the practices of the secretive center located in Virginia. The ACLU raised constitutional concerns about the report’s focus on First Amendment protected activities when it was made public this month. The document characterized the “diversity” surrounding a Virginia military base and the state’s “historically black” colleges as possible recruiting grounds for terrorists.
“It’s encouraging to see the governor of Virginia agreed with the ACLU that the Virginia Fusion Center’s Threat Assessment warranted an investigation,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We are hopeful that the federal government will follow suit and realize how damaging these fusion center reports can be absent strict guidelines and intense oversight. We’re looking forward to working with Congress and the Obama administration to conduct a thorough audit of these centers before more federal money is spent to support their activities.”
The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there were 70 fusion centers in the United States as of February 2009.
[efoods]The ACLU has long warned the government about the dangers posed by fusion centers without proper oversight and, in 2007, released a report entitled, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” The report, which was updated last year, identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and their excessive secrecy.
Earlier this month, the ACLU sent five letters to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties urging investigations into five troubling incidents, several of which have stemmed from DHS-funded fusion centers. From directing local police to investigate non-violent political activists and religious groups in Texas to advocating surveillance of third-party presidential candidate supporters in Missouri, there have been repeated and persistent disclosures of troubling memos and reports from local fusions centers.
“With any luck, this investigation will shine a light on the murky internal operations of domestic intelligence centers,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “This threat assessment isn’t just troubling for its constitutional and racial implications; it also contains wildly misleading information that could lead to unnecessary and wasteful investigations of innocent Americans. It’s important for lawmakers from all levels of government to become engaged with this issue, conduct thorough oversight of fusion centers and enact legislation to protect against unwarranted intelligence activities that threaten our democracy while doing nothing to improve security.”
To read the ACLU of Virginia’s analysis of the Virginia Fusion Center’s Report, go to: www.acluva.org/publications/VAFusionCenterSummary2009.pdf
To read the ACLU’s report on fusion centers, go to: www.aclu.org/fusion
To read the ACLU’s letters to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, go to: www.aclu.org/privacy