The Federal government used the 9/11 terror attacks as a catalyst in its quest to create a nationwide surveillance network sophisticated and powerful enough to collect dossiers on virtually all American citizens, in most cases without warrant, in the name of homeland security. One of the most powerful tools at the state’s disposal in recent years has been so-called fusion centers, which allow for citizen data to be collected and stored in central locations for access by all levels of law enforcement.
Homeland Security estimates that it has spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds to support State and local fusion centers since 2003.
Civil liberty advocates have long maligned the data collection centers as unConstitutional because they can be used to collect data on Americans who simply make seditious statements or are wary of the government’s actions. This means Americans who practice Constitutionally guaranteed free speech in criticizing government in the public sphere through protest, print or Internet activity could be swept into the vast bureaucratic dragnet that fusion centers cast in the search for potential terrorists.
In fact, the results of a two-year bipartisan investigation by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations made public late last year underline the concerns of fusion center detractors with findings of wasteful spending by fusion centers engaged in feverish terrorist witch hunts.
The Senate report found that the Nation’s more than 70 fusion centers actually do very little by way of providing the American populace practical protection from terror; instead, they damage civil liberty and waste taxpayer money.
From the report:
- The investigation found that DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced 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.”
- DHS officials did not provide evidence to the Subcommittee showing unique contributions that state and local fusion centers made to assist federal counter terrorism intelligence efforts that resulted in the disruption or prevention of a terrorism plot.
- The investigation also found that DHS did not effectively monitor how federal funds provided to state and local fusion centers were used to strengthen federal counterterrorism efforts. A review of the expenditures of five fusion centers found that federal funds were used to purchase dozens of flat screen TVs, two sport utility vehicles, cell phone tracking devices and other surveillance equipment unrelated to the analytical mission of an intelligence center. Their mission is not to do active or covert collection of intelligence. In addition, the fusion centers making these questionable expenditures lacked basic, “must-have” intelligence capabilities, according to DHS assessments.
While the warrantless government data collection and massive abuse of taxpayer money are cause for concern for the average American, there is something even more disheartening to keep in mind about fusion centers: The people in charge — as is almost always the case with failed government-run money pits — feel they are providing Americans with a valuable service. Worse yet, the criticism they have received over the past several months puts pressure on them to double down on spying efforts in order to justify the existence of the centers via some measure of perceived positive result.
That’s what makes comments like those made by Arkansas State Fusion Center Director Richard Davis over the weekend particularly unsettling. In an attempt to clear up misconceptions that fusion centers are purposefully designed to spy on U.S. citizens, Davis announced that they actually are designed to do just that; but, never fear, the centers take a look only at scary “anti-government” types.
“The misconceptions are that we are conducting spying operations on US citizens, which is of course not a fact. That is absolutely not what we do,” he told a FOX affiliate.
Davis continued, noting that his office focuses mainly on developing international plots as well as, “domestic terrorism and certain groups that are anti-government. We want to kind of take a look at that and receive that information.”
And, here comes the scariest statement that could be made by a man working for a government-created spy apparatus that is fingered for wasteful spending and Constitutional abuse in recent headlines.
“I do what I do because of what happened on 9/11,” Davis said. “There’s this urge and this feeling inside that you want to do something, and this is a perfect opportunity for me.”
Luckily for Davis and his fusion center cohorts (who, remember, have not actually provided any “unique contributions that state and local fusion centers made to assist federal counter terrorism intelligence efforts that resulted in the disruption or prevention of a terrorism plot”), there is a growing trend of demonizing small-government activists and virtually anyone seeking contrarian alternatives to the current political zeitgeist.
A good example on an organization making it easier for fusion centers to prove their false worth is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which — presumably bored with, or perhaps bankrupt of race-baiting ideas — has squarely focused its accusations of hate on Americans who would prefer a version of America with a smaller government.
Hearkening back to its roots and blaming the Nation’s decision to elect and re-elect a black President for perceived growth in the number of “conspiracy-minded antigovernment ‘Patriot’ groups” in recent years, the SPLC breathlessly exclaimed with the release of its latest “Intelligence Report”:
Now, it seems likely that the radical right’s growth will continue. In 2012, before Obama’s re-election and the Newtown, Conn., massacre, the rate of Patriot growth had slackened somewhat, although it remained significant. Anger over the idea of four more years under a black, Democratic president — and, even more explosively, the same kinds of gun control efforts that fueled the militia movement of the 1990s — seems already to be fomenting another Patriot spurt.
Even before the election last year, self-described Patriots sounded ready for action. “Our Federal Government is just a tool of International Socialism now, operating under UN Agendas not our American agenda,” the United States Patriots Union wrote last year in a letter “sent to ALL conservative state legislators, all states.” This means that freedom and liberty must be defended by the states under their Constitutional Balance of Power, or we are headed to Civil War wherein the people will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.
In its effort of essentializing that all small government advocates or persons who proudly refer to themselves as patriots are terroristic in nature, SPLC and those who accept its ideology eagerly create an entire class of unwitting homegrown terrorist.
As previously noted by Personal Liberty, SPLC counts the following among potential small government troublemakers, people who it lists alongside the likes of white supremacists and neo-Nazis:
- Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
- Representative Trey Radel (R-Fla.).
- State lawmakers in Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee who proposed laws that sought to prevent Federal gun control from applying to their States.
- Sheriff Richard Mack.
- FOX News Radio host Todd Starnes.
- ConservativeDaily.com’s Tony Adkins.
- Chuck Baldwin, a Montana-based Patriot leader long associated with the Constitution Party.
- The Oath Keepers.
This author would be willing to bet that he and many of you also fit the bill to be grouped alongside SPLC’s list of hysterical small-government advocates.
For people like those at the SPLC and the Nation’s fusion centers, it doesn’t matter that Americans have the Constitutionally protected right to speak out against what they perceive to be government’s shortcomings and abuses. The name of the game for them is remaining relevant. That is to say, if SPLC actually focused on fighting racism and fusion centers focused on tracking legitimate terror threats (which would likely get them in trouble with SPLC for profiling), both enterprises would have little with which to busy themselves.
It is far easier for the two to attack the millions of Americans cognizant of and angry about too big, too wasteful and woefully inept bureaucracy in America. The aforementioned Senate report on fusion centers notes that they have gone so far as to collect information on individuals who placed political stickers in public bathrooms or participated in protests against government actions. And while the information may sit and collect dust forever, precedents set throughout American history (Alien and Sedition acts, Japanese internment) make it frighteningly possible that it could be put to a more sinister use.