January 22, 2009
Ever hear of a Fusion Center?
They are run by the Department of Homeland Security and are locally based across the country.
A fusion center is an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources.
At first blush this sounds good. After 9/11 discussions were had about how to streamline communication between local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Many states and larger cities have created state and local fusion centers to share information and intelligence within their jurisdictions as well as with the federal government. The Department, through the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, provides personnel with operational and intelligence skills to the fusion centers. This support is tailored to the unique needs of the locality and serves to:
help the classified and unclassified information flow,
coordinate with local law enforcement and other agencies, and
provide local awareness and access.
But, it is being alleged that something has gone wrong along the way. Fusion centers have now come under the scrutinizing eye of the ACLU, and for good reasons.
Who is spying in your neighborhood?
These centers have been placed in our neighborhoods. Our local fusion center is located on Bataan Boulevard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can find the fusion center nearest you by clicking on this interactive map. The ACLU has also set up a site that tracks camera surveillance. Video surveillance is nothing new, but:
Video surveillance is not a new phenomenon, but the amount of attention that the federal government has been paying is. In the past five years, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded $300 million in grants to state and local governments, all in the name of public video surveillance.
From the same article:
Meanwhile, a timely University of California study has found that San Francisco’s $700,000 ‘Crime Camera’ program has had no impact on violent crime since its 2005 installation. The study also states that robberies dropped significantly within each camera’s radius, but notes that this finding is inconclusive.
These two paragraphs beg some further discussion. Is the surveillance arm of the Department of Homeland Security working in conjunction with the fusion center in this California neighborhood? If surveillance cameras aren’t reducing crime significantly, what other purposes are they serving?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of California have filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and local authorities over the seizure and search of two organizations’ computers, they jointly announced Wednesday.
On August 27, 2008, the University of California Police, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI took part in a raid of the Berkeley offices of two politically active groups, Long Haul Infoshop and East Bay Prisoner Support Group (EBPS), seizing every computer in the building, even those behind locked doors, which were opened by force. The raid was conducted despite no allegations of wrongdoing on the part of either organization or any of their members, and the complaint questions the legality of the warrant obtained by authorities.
Why search and seize at the Long Haul Infoshop or the East Bay Prisoner Support Group? Was the FBI working in conjunction with the local fusion center? More questions.
The neighborhood spying isn’t limited to California.
Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.
The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 until May 2006.
The fusion center in New Mexico is known as a "cut and paste" shop. Analysts peruse media, in all forms (print and electronic), clipping information that they feel is "important" or "questionable." It is also alleged that they peruse the internet. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were reading this diary, now.
A new institution is emerging in American life: Fusion Centers. These state, local and regional institutions were originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Though they developed independently and remain quite different from one another, for many the scope of their mission has quickly expanded – with the support and encouragement of the federal government – to cover "all crimes and all hazards." The types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector.
A draft of the ACLU legislation, sponsored by Rep. Antonio "Mo" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, would prohibit a law enforcement agency from collecting, maintaining and sharing "with any other law enforcement agency, information about the political, religious or social associations, views or activities of a person unless" they are suspected of committing a crime.
That is the kicker…they aren’t watching American citizens who are suspected of committing crimes. They are watching whoever they want to.
But in a democracy, the collection and sharing of intelligence information – especially information about American citizens and other residents – need to be carried out with the utmost care. That is because more and more, the amount of information available on each one of us is enough to assemble a very detailed portrait of our lives. And because security agencies are moving toward using such portraits to profile how "suspicious" we look.
American citizens aren’t being spied on just by the NSA. They are being spied on by the fusion center office around the corner.
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