On the heels of the Maryland State Police spying scandal, the ACLU is ringing the alarms over “fusion centers.”

These are the state-by-state groupings of various law enforcement agencies working together at all levels, from local police to the FBI, NSA, and CIA, ostensibly to share terrorism threat information. But, as we saw in the Maryland case, they may sometimes just be sharing information about lawful, peaceful First Amendment-protected speech.

There is “mission creep from watching out for terrorism to watching out for peace activists,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in a press conference July 29. She called the fusion centers an incipient “domestic intelligence apparatus.” And she warned that the kind of spying that occurred in Maryland was “very dangerous to our democracy.”

In December 2007, the ACLU published a report “What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers?”

It noted that there are more than 40 fusion centers already created. And it cited several problems with them, including the participation of military personnel in law enforcement, as well as “private sector participation.” “Fusion centers are incorporating private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, breaking down the arm’s length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies.”

On July 29, the ACLU issued an update to that report.

The fusion centers represent an attempt to create a “total surveillance society,” the update says.

It notes that the LAPD fed into its fusion center an array of ““suspicious activity reports” that included such innocuous activities as “taking notes” or “drawing diagrams” or “using binoculars.” (Since one out of six Americans is a birdwatcher, this last item could really swell the files.)

The “suspicious activity” criteria of the LAPD “gives law enforcement officers justification to harass practically anyone they choose, to collect personal information, and to pass such information along to the intelligence community,” the update says.

Frighteningly, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has called the LAPD program “a national model.”

The Director of National Intelligence urges state and local law enforcement to “report non-criminal suspicious activities,” the update says. According to the standards of the Director of National Intelligence, these activities are defined as “observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism, criminal, or other illicit intention.”

The ACLU notes that “other illicit intention” is not defined, and that fusion centers are fed intelligence before “reasonable suspicion” is established.

Fusion centers also engage in data mining, as they rely not only on FBI and CIA records. They also often “have subscriptions with private data brokers such as Accurint, ChoicePoint, Lexis-Nexus, and LocatePlus, a database containing cell phone numbers and unpublished telephone records,” the ACLU notes, referring to a Washington Post article from April 2.

The ACLU calls fusion centers “out-of-control data-gathering monsters.”

While the government is gathering more and more information about us citizens, it’s trying to shield itself from telling us what it’s doing. “There appears to be an effort by the federal government to coerce states into exempting their fusion centers from state open government laws,” the ACLU notes. “For those living in Virginia, it’s already too late: The Virginia General Assembly passed a law in April 2008 exempting the state’s fusion center from the Freedom of Information Act.”

As I noted in “The New Snoops: Terrorism Liaison Officers, Some from the Private Sector”, the Department of Justice has come up with “Fusion Center Guidelines” that flat-out recommend that “fusion centers and their leadership encourage appropriate policymakers to legislate the protection of private sector data provided to fusion centers.”

The ACLU is absolutely right: Congress must investigate these fusion centers and exercise appropriate oversight before law enforcement agencies and their private sector partners violate the rights of more Americans and usher us all into the total surveillance society.

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A couple thousand "nobles sauvages" and nerdy savants from across the republic are letting loose this weekend.

If I lived in South Dakota, I’d probably be in a nursing home. And that would be hell.

The nights would start with beer and end with coffee—a lot of coffee.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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