By Ed Rampell
Starting on July 28, 1914, a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand...
Wis. Gov. Scott Walker seems to be retreating into a fantasy world where he and his loyal sidekicks are the champions of liberty and justice for all as the house of cards that is his political career begins to teeter and sway.
In September, Walker’s bizarre performance at a local elementary school promoting “Read the Constitution Day” was chock full of inventive flights of fancy and a stunning disregard for the reality that his most controversial policy had just been deemed unconstitutional by a court of law.
Last week Walker’s fantasies turned to crime fighting as he launched Wisconsin’s “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign. Flanked by Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, Major General Don Dunbar of the Wisconsin National Guard and Betsy Markey, Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, Walker gave a rambling, folksy talk about the role of citizens in the important work of creating safe communities.
“Every day, not just in airports, but at sporting events, at the grocery store, picking up the kids from school, out at the park, at business or workplaces wherever that might be, day in and day out there are people here in Wisconsin that will run into something that makes them think, ‘You know, that’s just not right. There’s something a little unsettling about that.’ Through this campaign,” he said, “we’re telling the people of Wisconsin, if you see something, say something. It’s easy.”
Spying on your neighbor and projecting neurotic fears onto others has never been more convenient or rewarding!
In 2010 Dana Priest and William Arkin published Top Secret America for the Washington Post. The series of four meticulously researched articles revealed a sprawling network of 1,271 units of governmental agencies and 1,931 private companies or divisions within companies that make up a vast, disjointed and secretive domestic intelligence and homeland security world.
Part of that world is comprised of 77 “fusion centers” across the country – part of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, which is designed to collect, analyze, and share information through all levels of law enforcement networks. “Nontraditional collectors of intelligence, such as public safety entities and private sector organizations, possess important information that can be “fused” with law enforcement data to provide meaningful information and intelligence about threats and criminal activity,” reads the website of one center.
Two centers are located in Wisconsin: The Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center (STAC), which covers Milwaukee and five southeastern counties, and the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC), which covers the rest of the state. According to Attorney General Van Hollen and Walker, WSIC is staffing the phone banks and computer terminals for the “If You See Something Say Something™” campaign.
According to the DHS press release, “The ‘If You See Something, Say Something™’ campaign—originally implemented by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and now licensed to DHS for a nationwide campaign—is a simple and effective program to engage the public and key frontline employees to identify and report indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime to the proper transportation and law enforcement authorities.”
It has been launched in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice “Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative—an administration effort to train state and local law enforcement to recognize behaviors and indicators related to terrorism and terrorism-related crime, standardize how those observations are documented and analyzed, and ensure the sharing of those reports with the Federal Bureau of Investigation-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces for further investigation and fusion centers for analysis.”
So in Scott Walker’s land of make-believe, a behavior that strikes someone as “a little unsettling” is potentially associated with terrorism or terrorism-related crime, and is thus worthy of reporting to the fusion center.
DHS Asst. Secretary Markey assured those assembled at the secure military base for the press conference last week that the DHS’s top priority is to “ensure that the civil rights and liberties of citizens are not diminished by the program.”
Scott Walker extended this point noting that, “People handling calls at the fusion center, they’re trained to respect the rights of people.”
Apparently, that’s just another figment of Walker’s imaginary world.
According to a scorching 141-page minority and majority staff report released last night by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, even though fusion center staff are told, “You are prohibited from collecting or maintaining information on U.S. persons solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment protected freedoms of religion, speech, press, and peaceful assembly and protest,” many reports produced by fusion center staff are rendered unusable because they violate those rights.
In the report entitled, “Federal Support for and Involvement in State and Local Fusion Centers,” Barbara Alexander, then director of the Collection and Requirements Division of DHS, told the subcommittee that, “she recalled being told the Reporting Branch was ‘flooded’ with inappropriate reporting” that would have violated the Privacy Act.
The report goes on to skewer the DHS and fusion centers for ineptitude, disorganization, inefficiency, and a massive waste of up to $1.4 billion. Here’s a sample of topics covered from the table of contents:
IV. DHS' SUPPORT FOR AND INVOLVEMENT IN STATE AND LOCAL FUSIONCENTERS DOES NOT GENERATE TIMELY, USEFUL INTELLIGENCE FOR FEDERAL COUNTERTERRORISM EFFORTS
V. DHS DOES NOT ADEQUATELY OVERSEE ITS FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR FUSION CENTERS
VI. FUSION CENTERS HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO MEANINGFULLY CONTRIBUTE TO FEDERAL COUNTERTERRORISM EFFORTS
C. Despite Promises, DHS Has Not Assessed Fusion Center Performance
D. Some DHS-Recognized Fusion Centers Do Not Exist
E. Many Fusion Centers Do Not Prioritize Counterterrorism Efforts
F. DHS “Success Stories” Do Not Demonstrate Centers’ Value to Counterterrorism Efforts.
G. Fusion Centers May Have Hindered, Not Aided, Federal Counterterrorism Efforts.
The report makes fusion centers out to be little more than pork barrel projects into which federal funds are dumped to pay off political allies (see VI. D. above). To justify the continued flow of money to Wisconsin’s efforts to combat terrorism, the Wisconsin Homeland Security Council published a document outlining a four-year homeland security strategy last July.
Part of the proposal is for the WSIC to staff the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network, which provides business owners with crime fighting training – like a course in how to protect your company’s intellectual property – and alerts about crimes that may affect the business.
Meanwhile, back in the world the rest of us inhabit, Scott Walker is facing some real challenges. As various pieces of the sweeping John Doe investigation into Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee County Executive come to trial later this fall, the noose is tightening around his neck. Walker has been placed on the witness lists for the trials of two close associates: Kelley Rindfleish and Tim Russell.
Walker’s signature agency, the semi-privatized Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, is in deep trouble with the federal Housing and Urban Development Department and apparently has been ever since its creation a year and a half ago. Walker’s political appointees chose not to share HUD’s long-standing concerns that WEDC is not authorized to disburse millions of dollars of CDGB funds with the members of the Board of the organization, prompting one board member to threaten resignation. The Legislative Audit Committee will hold a hearing on the matter later this month, and the director of the agency, Paul Jadin, has tendered his resignation effective November 1.
Far away from the mostly fictional world of terrorists, spooks, and unsettling behavior that generates so much economic activity for Scott Walker’s associates in Wisconsin is the brutal reality of life in Milwaukee.
On September 22, 2012, fourteen months after Derek Williams died while in the custody of the Milwaukee Police, the County Medical Examiner’s office changed its ruling on the cause of death from natural to homicide after viewing videotapes of Williams’ arrest.
The graphic video that shows Williams paralyzed and suffocating in the back of a squad car prompted the Milwaukee County DA and the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commissions to re-open their investigations, and yesterday a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate Williams’ death. That investigation may lead to a more wide-ranging inquiry into possible civil rights violations by the Milwaukee Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
This investigation comes on the heels of another John Doe investigation initiated earlier this year by Milwaukee County District Attorney into the MPD’s practice of illegally strip-searching people suspected of criminal activity. Two of the officers involved in the arrest and death of Derek Williams are also subjects of the illegal strip-search investigation. This pattern of sexually humiliating behavior by police is a product of the hyped-up fears generated by the security state combined with the huge differentials in power along racial and class lines that persist in Milwaukee.
Notable for their absence in either of these cases is Attorney General Van Hollen and the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Their staff may be too busy processing concealed carry permits, prosecuting non-criminal citations issued to activists at the Capitol, training business owners to protect their economic interests, or staffing the phone lines at the fusion center.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.