Fusion Centers

Fusion Centers: Expensive and Dangerous to Our Liberty

A new report says they're fraught with waste and abuse and have whittled away at civil liberties protections.

|

DHS
U.S. Government

A domestic surveillance system established after the terrorist attacks of September 11 collects and shares intelligence on a mass scale about "the everyday activities of law-abiding Americans, even in the absence of reasonable suspicion," according to a new report.

The report, released this month by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy institute at NYU School of Law, found that law enforcement data sharing programs organized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are fraught with waste and abuse and have whittled away at civil liberties protections while evading sufficient oversight.

"Until 9/11, police departments had limited authority to gather information on innocent activity, such as what people say in their houses of worship or at political meetings," the report explains. "Police could only examine this type of First Amendment-protected activity if there was a direct link to a suspected crime. But the attacks of 9/11 led law enforcement to turn this rule on its head."

Amidst unprecedented focus on overreach at the National Security Agency (NSA), many Americans have come to understand the risk of being spied on by the government in their electronic communications. But the intelligence-sharing hubs coordinated between DHS and state and local police departments around the country, called "fusion centers," show there is extensive surveillance of Americans' physical and social activities as well.

In 2012, a Senate investigation found that fusion centers cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but disrupted no actual terrorist plots. The investigation said the intelligence gathering was "oftentimes shoddy" and "more often than not unrelated to terrorism" while "sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties."

As the Associated Press reported at the time of the Senate report, fusion centers often targeted the First Amendment activities of Americans, "circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights."

Fusion centers in Boston, Massachusetts, filed scores of "intelligence reports" on anti-war activists, according to findings from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"We now have proof of what peace groups and activists have long suspected: Boston Police officers have worked within the local fusion spying center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), to monitor the lawful political activity of local peace groups and track their movements and beliefs," the ACLU's Nancy Murray wrote last year. 

"This information is fed into an array of federal information sharing networks, creating mountains of data," the Brennan Center report explains, describing the apparent civil liberties infringements as "potentially illegal."

"In some jurisdictions," the report warns, "police have used aggressive information-gathering tactics to target American Muslim communities without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Such practices have not generated investigative leads or proven especially useful in preventing potential terrorist attacks."

Fusion centers collect information on "such innocuous and non-criminal activities as photography, looking through binoculars, and taking notes."

Other activities collected by law enforcement officials and stored in fusion centers included:

  • Individuals who stay at bus or train stops for extended periods while buses and trains come and go;
  • Individuals who carry on long conversations on pay or cellular telephones; 
  • Individuals who order food at a restaurant and leave before the food arrives or who order without eating; and
  • Joggers who stand and stretch for an inordinate amount of time.

These complex intelligence programs are comprised of work by federal, state, and local authorities and are deliberately decentralized. According to the Brennan Center, proper "intelligence oversight is extremely uncommon at the state and local level."

The report urges significant operational and oversight reforms to the program, including requiring police and intelligence officials to adopt basic "reasonable suspicion" standards for collecting information on citizens and to "prohibit the collection, maintenance, or dissemination of information that relies on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation as a factor in establishing reasonable suspicion."

The Brennan Center report does not include recommendations for imposing accountability on federal, state, and local authorities for violating the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.

The lack of accountability mirrors that found in the NSA surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. Last week, a federal judge ruled that NSA's collection of virtually every American's phone records was likely unconstitutional and "almost Orwellian" in its scope. Judge Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, said the authors of the Constitution would be "aghast."

And the secret FISA court tasked with overseeing NSA programs found in 2011 that the NSA "frequently and systematically violated" statutory laws governing how intelligence agents can search databases of Americans' telephone communications and that NSA analysts deliberately misled judges about the nature of the programs in order to get court approval.

"The rules have been broken, and the rules have been broken a lot," Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in October.

Systematically violating both statutory and constitutional restrictions and infringing on the Fourth Amendment rights of millions of Americans' as a matter of policy are no minor transgressions. They are crimes. But no NSA or executive branch official has been called to account.

As the ongoing controversy over the NSA leaks clearly demonstrates, 9/11 prompted the intelligence community to seriously exceed its authority and expand its capabilities to spy on citizens in the name of foiling terrorists. Despite serious offenses, an erosion in the rule of law has prevented government officials from being prosecuted. And the Department of Homeland Security's fusion centers are no different.

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on New York's E-Cigarette Ban

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Joggers who stand and stretch for an inordinate amount of time.

    How could they possibly be gathering this kind of information? I swear to God, if I get tendon damage because some rotund copper with binoculars is making me too subconscious to stretch before my run…

    1. It’s female joggers; the cops are ogling them.

      1. Now you’ve gone and othered the gay cops.

        1. I thought he was othering gay joggers.

          1. Boys, boys, boys….it’s Christmas….let us other everyone!

    2. Well if your hiking you better not stand still too long unless you want STEVE SMITH TO RAPE YOU.

      1. You’re. Contraction of you are. Not your. Possessive.

    3. my best friend’s half-sister got paid $13253 a week ago. she is making money on the computer and moved in a $315200 house. All she did was get blessed and apply the information explained on this web page

      ??WWW.??????????

    4. my best friend’s half-sister got paid $13253 a week ago. she is making money on the computer and moved in a $315200 house. All she did was get blessed and apply the information explained on this web page

      ??WWW.??????????

  2. “Systematically violating both statutory and constitutional restrictions and infringing on the Fourth Amendment rights of millions of Americans’ as a matter of policy are no minor transgressions. They are crimes. But no NSA or executive branch official has been called to account.”

    “He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
    He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
    He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
    For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

    Time to throw off our oppressors.

  3. “Amidst unprecedented focus on overreach at the National Security Agency (NSA), many Americans have come to understand the risk of being spied on by the government in their electronic communications. But the intelligence-sharing hubs coordinated between DHS and state and local police departments around the country, called “fusion centers,” show there is extensive surveillance of Americans’ physical and social activities as well.”

    Fostering an atmosphere of paranoia like this will broaden the scope of what government agents consider cause for action against citizens until we are living in a surreal, orwellian nightmare. If we dont put a stop to this shit we will be known for all time as the people who took the greatest nation on earth and threw it away.

    1. Oh, and NSA, if you are reading this, go fuck yourself.

    2. Evidence of how far down the rabbit hole we have fallen;

      https://reason.com/blog/2013/12…..lly-assaul

      1. Corollary to the 2nd amendment musket and 1st amendment printing press doctrine, only search techniques used in the colonial era are allowed? So no more cavity searches.

        1. Yes, but then you get the contemporary “cruel” standard, which might not be a good trade.

          1. Schapism for corrupt government officials? I’m up for it.

    3. I can tell you hate the children.

  4. law enforcement data sharing programs organized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are fraught with waste and abuse and have whittled away at civil liberties protections while evading sufficient oversight.

    I’m shocked.

    SHOCKED, I tell you.

  5. Judge Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, said the authors of the Constitution would be “aghast.”

    That would also include anyone with half a brain.

    Merry Christmas and Best Wishes to all Resonoids.

    1. Merry Christmas.

    2. Merry Christmas, ladies and gentlemen.
      Please have a better one than I am.

      1. Merry Christmas!

      2. Why are you having an unMerry Christmas ?

        “They” say it’s always darkest right before the dawn.

    3. Merry Christmas Bitches!

  6. 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11

    1. 0.81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81 81

      1. -1 rounding error!

        1. -1 incorrectly comment on rounding error~!

  7. They hate us for our freedoms.

    “They” of course being our own government and their jackboot police agencies.

  8. Some of my relatives obviously got the “harangue everyone you meet over the holidays about Obamacare” memo, so I get to hear about how Pelosi’s “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it” was a necessary Noble Lie because the Republicans were lying about the bill, and if the Democrats had tried to address those lies, the Republicans would just make up more lies, and then the brilliant technocrats wouldn’t have enough time to perfectly centrally plan an economy which interacts with billions of individuals.

    Also healthcare should be covered by a flat monthly fee that’s the same for everyone and never changes over their entire life. Sure, in the Real World some people actually are more expensive to cover, but that’s why we had this great idea of forcing everyone by mandate into a pool, because egalitarianism.

    Help me, I feel like I’ve traveled back in time… except for the fact that the preceeding Christmases were also under the reign of Obama the Great and Terrible and I didn’t have to hear this shit. A guaranteed job with pension and healthcare that never shift in cost or benefits until the day you die. Yeah, it’s really those icky conservatives that are the ones afraid of change.

    1. Tell that there have been *other* countries that had guaranteed jobs with pensions and healthcare that never shift in cost or benefits.

      Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba.

      The common denominator being that all those jobs were forced and your pension and healthcare were just enough to slowly starve to death on – for the greater GOOD!

      1. Wealth Redistributors only killed about 250 million people last century in a failed attempt to make their dreams come true.

        Beat them over the head with that until they are bloody and dazed.

    2. So Dem lies are for our own good because we are children that cant see when someone is putting a boot on our neck for our own good, and Rep lies are to trick us into evil. Got it.

      Remind them that if you have to lie to make your case, you dont have a case worth making; you are probably on the wrong side of the fence.

      1. Oh, and then hit the sauce.

      2. You should ask them what kind of shit system requires lies to implement.

    3. Pelosi didn’t say that.

      She said “we have to pass it so YOU can find out what is in it”.

    4. You can’t reason with stupid. Just go to your happy place SRC. For fun you can make up equally stupid shit ane play along. See how far done retard lane you can take them. Personally I just ignore ishit like that and enjoy my day off.

      1. And. Down. Shit.

    5. This always improves my mood:)

      http://eyebleach.com/

      1. +1. Love the one with Penelope Cruz and Selma Hayek.

      2. Thanks!!!

  9. The “Drug War” had little to do with drugs and a lot to with the need for “special circumstances” in which citizens could be lawfully denied the ability “to hide behind” that troublesome Bill of Rights. They’re applying the same tactics in the supposed “War on Terror.” The goal of both is the same.

    1. This. Their moving as quickly as possible toward the total survalance state while the sheep are still cowering from imaginary danger.

    2. Exactly. I spent my high school years (the early 1970’s) avoiding drugs and to this day have never smoked or ingested any illicit substances. But I am 100% for decriminalization of pot and most other drugs (I’ll think through the effects of legal cocaine/heroin/etc when we have legal pot) simply because of how the war on drugs has Efed up this nation.

      In over a half century on this planet I have never done drugs but I probably face a similar risk of getting my life highjacked by some JBT drug warrior as any random drug dealer is. This is insane.

    3. The prohibitionists always believe that their personal pet peeve is so evil that normal civil rights shouldn’t apply. And the courts, which are supposed to protect us from these zealots, fail miserably. This is why both DUI search points and no-knock search warrants are found to not violate the 4th Amendment somehow, magically, despite the plain English of the amendment.

  10. Wish Americans would stop for just a second to realize each time they happily allow their own political party more power when they’re in office, those same powers are certain to be misused, abused, expanded upon, and misused some more by the opposing party as soon as they’re in office.

    1. I always try to tell people that once you set the pit bull loose in the playground, you don’t get to choose which child it mauls.

  11. Also healthcare should be covered by a flat monthly fee that’s the same for everyone and never changes over their entire life.

    Just like rent.

    1. It’s too damn high

  12. It’s good to be the king

    Photo caption: The Associated Press President Barack Obama is seen through the window of his motorcade vehicle as he is driven through the Kailua, Hawaii, neighborhood where he is spending his annual holiday vacation with his family, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, en route to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Hawaii, to play golf.

    Also, President Barack Obama is encouraging Americans to embrace the spirit of Christmas by volunteering at a soup kitchen, buying gifts for kids in need, or organizing food and clothing drives.

    Government-approved charitable organizations, only, please.

    1. Nothing like a multi millionaire, who only recently started donating a small percentage of his income to charity, lecture the rest of us about volunteering and charity.

    2. He looks positively reptilian in the pix.

  13. OT:
    Those who name tomatoes before they eat them are “influentials”, and they support more money for unskilled labor! Well, at least one ignorant media whore the rag could chase up:
    “Influential voices in food movement seek better worker wages”
    […]
    “But the food movement can get sidetracked into wealthy, upper-middle-class people caring about food as status, caring about food as pleasure. I’m a huge supporter of animal welfare, but the compassion for the abuse of animals is so much more excessive, I think, than for low-wage workers in this country.”
    http://www.sfgate.com/politics…..091843.php
    Oh, and I hope everyone got a solid-gold surfboard to surf in their gold-coin pool!

    1. The thing that pisses me off about Pollan is not only is he stentorian, but he is wrong. Not only that, he is wronger than wrong. The man who looks like Steve Jobs when he was suffering from the late stages of terminal cancer claims to be the paragon of nutritional health, yet his recommendations are based purely on his own aesthetic sense of what people would be forced to eat in his Magical Fairy Land.

      If Pollan actually believed what he preached, and wasn’t nutritionally ignorant, he would be the most outspoken advocate of Soylent. However, Soylent sells well to 20-something, male, Bay area techies who could give a shit less about Pollan’s modern-day Georgics, thus Pollan and his Manhattan limousine-tractor crowd are dismissive of it.

      It’s all about “messaging”, you see.

      1. I don’t know a whole lot about the guy, but there’s many places I’d look for info on food long before I’d check with a UC J-school prof.
        And of course, none of the people mentioned in the article are about to eat at a fast-food joint, so who cares if the prices go up?
        Only hoi polloi eat there; fuck ’em if they gotta paga.

          1. That’s right, he stretched out the naturalistic fallacy into a 300 page book. But, in a way, it’s not even that sophisticated an argument. He argues that we should based our diet on what “looks good”, aesthetics over science. He’s nothing more than that idiot who reads the food labels and screeches “Dihydrogen monoxide! Ewww…that’s a chemical with a scary name!”

  14. Merry Christmas

  15. Merry Christmas to all, including the trolls and the Stasi vermin.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiXjbI3kRus

  16. Politics of Envy take over at the mayor’s office.

    Critics note that more than a dozen New York City charter school executives are paid more than current New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s $212,614. Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $499,146. Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and founder of Success Academies, earns $475,244.

    Moskowitz has grown Success from one Harlem school in 2006 to 20 schools in several neighborhoods, with six more slated to open next fall. Its 6,700 pupils make it the city’s largest charter operator.

    “We can’t afford it, and it would be taking dollars away from children and from their education to pay rent on a public school,” said Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Success.

    Moskowitz ? who helped stage a march of more than 10,0000 people across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s plans in October ? has been singled out by de Blasio for criticism.

    “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK? ” de Blasio said at a forum in June. He told a United Federation of Teachers meeting last May that Moskowitz’s schools have “a destructive impact on the schools they’re going into.”

    When those kids start paying union dues, the school system will start worrying about what happens to them.

    1. When those kids start paying union dues, the school system will start worrying about what happens to them.

      Albert Shanker is angry that you quoted him without a cite.

    2. Doesn’r de Biasio understand that this is for the children ?

      Why does de Biasio hate children ?

      1. De Blasio hates children because they activate anti-collectivist instincts in the populace. People dare want what’s best for their children, as opposed to allowing the benevolent state to raise the children in common. The emotional attachment to one’s offspring must be eliminated for his plans to continue.

        1. Sort of like, “If you like your child, you can keep your child”?

          1. So you’ve been to one of Polanski’s cocktail parties too, I see. He starts every one with that statement.

        2. “People dare want what’s best for their children”

          Melissa Harris-Perry begs to differ. They arent your children.

  17. Merry Chri… err, I mean winter holiday, comrades. We should just change the name to Obamaday, and instead of a tree and giving each other presents, we can all erect our own statue of dear great leader and just sit around all day talking about how great he is.

    1. Only one day for him?!? You are not of the Body, Hyperion.

      1. 12 days of Obama? No, wait, 366 days of Obama! We can change earths orbit to give one extra special day just for dear leader.

        Now do I get to be a good revenue generation bee in the great hive?

        1. Joy to you, friend.

          1. Peace and contentment. It is the gift of Obama.

            1. We could change the calendar to mimic the Babylonian one. Twelve months of 30 days each with a separate winter festival of 5 or 6 days set aside to honor his name.

        2. On the 364th Day of Obama, my true love gave to me, 364 Drone Strikes,
          363 NSA Wiretaps
          362 Healthcare.gov crashes
          361

          5 Worthless Bucks!
          4 Terms of Bush
          3 Different wars
          2 VPs
          and a black man in the white house!

          1. +1 tyrant.

  18. Chris Christie, bully.

    [Mr. Cody’s] cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs.

    *cue sad trombone* Nepotic and crony hires get shown the door. Wah! Wah!

  19. OK, have an awesome 12 days of Christmas!

    I hope you’ve started planning your Twelfth Night parties on January 5 or 6!

    1. Or celebrate Canadian style, eh?

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uG4yfMD95G8

    1. What’s the deal with the videos wanting to play automatically?

    2. If only. This, along with the media deciding to ignore the Miley creature, would be enough present for my next 50 xmasses

  20. Just sounds like some crazy smack to me dude.

    http://www.BeinAnon.tk

    1. RishJoMo, meet Shreek. Shreek, this is RishJoMo.
      You two have a lot in common.

      1. That’s a little harsh Sevo…after all one is a programmed, vacant, automaton void of substance and the other one is RishJoMo.

  21. People are being to randomly spy on you for no reason and with no direction. Welcome to Amerika.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.