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'Fusion Centers' Erode Civil Liberties Not Terrorism: Senate Study

Two year study by Senate subcommittee says regional information-sharing centers have done more harm than good

- Common Dreams staff

Following an exhaustive two year study on the impact that the creation of so-called 'fusion centers' have had on counter-terrorism efforts in the US, a report released on Tuesday showed that hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the information-sharing effort between local and federal law enforcement agencies yielded no practical results.

The "fusion center" in the L.A. area, the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Norwalk, shown above, has provided valuable information to the LAPD, the department's counter-terrorism bureau chief says. (Brian Van der Brug, Los Angeles Times / July 27, 2006) The findings of the investigation, conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, were presented in a 146-page report on Tuesday said that the review of intelligence documents from from regional fusion centers between April 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010,"could identify nothing that uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution any fusion center made to disrupt an active terrorist plot."

As Spencer Ackerman reports for Wired:

Unnamed Dept. of Homeland Security officials told the panel the fusion centers produce “predominantly useless information” and “a bunch of crap.”

And The Los Angeles Times adds:

Senate investigators concluded that [DHS] liaisons to the centers "forwarded 'intelligence' of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

The investigators also found that some local analysts had written inappropriate and potentially illegal reports about constitutionally protected activities of American citizens. Homeland Security officials prevented most from being disseminated.

The Homeland Security Department could not say for sure how much federal money had been spent on the centers, the subcommittee found, providing a range of $289 million to $1.4 billion.

The American Civil Liberties Union, long critical of the fusion centers, have said that the centers "raise very serious privacy issues at a time when new technology, government powers and zeal in the "war on terrorism" are combining to threaten Americans' privacy at an unprecedented level."

The findings of the Senate investigation seem to confirm another concern of the ACLU, which has been that the centers are simply not effective in the first place.