Spying By "Lawmen": Local/Regional -- With Federal Backing
2007-01-01 01:09:31 GMT
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR:
[We are indebted to the list serv of SPUSA for its dispatch in sending out the following article from today's Washington Post.]
What is described in the piece fits our bizarre situation here in Idaho like a gunman's glove. On 12/21/06, I posted a summation of our interesting experiences in this vein on a number of discussion lists: Duel in the Shadows: Idaho Harassment. The following day, we put it on our Hunterbear website where, a bit expanded, it resides at this Link: http://hunterbear.org/duel_in_the_shadows.htm
Here is the Washington Post piece:
*Localities Operate Intelligence Centers To Pool Terror Data*
'Fusion' Facilities Raise Privacy Worries As Wide Range of Information
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Spencer S. Hsu
/Washington Post/ Staff Writers
Sunday, December 31, 2006; A03
Frustrated by poor federal cooperation, U.S. states and cities are
building their own network of intelligence centers led by police to help
detect and disrupt terrorist plots.
The new "fusion centers" are now operating in 37 states, including
Virginia and Maryland, and another covers the Washington area, according
to the Department of Homeland Security. The centers, which have received
$380 million in federal support since the 2001 terrorist attacks, pool
and analyze information from local, state and federal law enforcement
The emerging "network of networks" marks a new era of opportunity for
law enforcement, according to U.S. officials and homeland security
experts. Police are hungry for federal intelligence in an age of
homegrown terrorism and more sophisticated crime. For their part,
federal law enforcement officials could benefit from a potential army of
tipsters -- the 700,000 local and state police officers across the
country, as well as private security guards and others being courted by
But the emerging model of "intelligence-led policing" faces risks on all
sides. The centers are popping up with little federal leadership and
training, raising fears of overzealousness such as that associated with
police "red squads" that spied on civil rights and peace activists
decades ago. The centers also face practical obstacles that could limit
their effectiveness, including a shortage of money, skilled analysts,
and proven relationships with the FBI and Homeland Security.
Still, the centers are emerging as a key element in a sometimes chaotic
new domestic intelligence infrastructure, which also includes homeland
security units in local police forces and 103 FBI-led terrorism task
forces, triple the number that existed before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Fusion centers are becoming "part of the landscape for local
government," said the incoming D.C. police chief, Cathy Lanier. But she
warned that police are navigating a new patchwork of state and federal
privacy laws that govern the sharing, collection and storage of
information. "We're in a very precarious position right now," she said.
"If we lose community support, that is going to be a big deal for local
Traditionally, police had little to do with counterterrorism. But after
the 2001 attacks, it became obvious that al-Qaeda members had been
preparing not only in far-off Afghan training camps but also in places
such as a Gold's Gym in Greenbelt and flight schools in Florida. An
unwitting Maryland state trooper stopped one of the future hijackers for
speeding on Interstate 95.
"Police officers, deputies and troopers . . . they're going to be the
ones that encounter a lot of these [suspicious] things on the road,"
said Virginia State Police Sgt. Lee Miller, who oversees the state's
year-old fusion center in Richmond. "What we're trying to do is provide
them the information they need to identify these different things."
The fusion centers range from small conference facilities to high-tech
nerve centers with expensive communications networks. Some do
investigations, while others focus on information-sharing -- passing
tips to the FBI and scanning federal intelligence for developments of
interest to local departments. Some have explored the use of
controversial data-mining software in keeping with their respective
Maryland's three-year-old fusion center outside Baltimore offers a
glimpse of the new intelligence world. Hidden behind a bolted door with
no nameplate in a quiet office park, the Maryland Coordination and
Analysis Center houses members of 23 local, state and federal agencies.
Harvey Eisenberg, an assistant U.S. attorney who helps oversee the
center, said police and other government employees are being trained to
phone its 24-hour "watch section" when they spot suspicious activity.
Calls to the terrorism hotline advertised on the Capital Beltway
(800-492-TIPS) are also answered by officers in the watch section.
"You need to educate cops, firefighters, health officials,
transportation officials, sanitation workers, to understand the nature
of the threat," Eisenberg said. "And not to become super-spies. . . .
Constitutionally, they see something, they can report it."
Officials say an incident on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 2004 shows the
center's effectiveness. State transportation police stopped an SUV after
a veiled passenger was seen videotaping the bridge in a suspicious
manner. The officers called the fusion center, which discovered that the
driver was an unindicted co-conspirator in a Chicago case involving
Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Eisenberg contacted a prosecutor in Chicago, who quickly obtained an
arrest warrant for the driver as a material witness in the Hamas case.
"The 9/11 commission's major criticism was that people didn't talk to
each other," said Dennis R. Schrader, Maryland's director of homeland
security. "Well, this is an example of how you had state, local and
federal all working together. . . . It's really pretty unbelievable."
To some, though, the incident raised questions about what constitutes
The driver, Ismail Elbarasse, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin
living in Annandale, was quickly released on bond, and the
material-witness warrant eventually expired. He was not charged with a
crime. His family said the veiled woman, Elbarasse's wife, was simply
taping the bay while returning from the beach.
"It was regarded in the community as just a case of overreaction to
seeing somebody in a head scarf videotaping," said Ibrahim Hooper of the
Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Civil liberties advocates worry that the fledgling fusion centers could
stray into monitoring people engaged in lawful activities, as some
members of new police homeland security units have done. A Georgia
homeland security officer, for example, was discovered photographing a
protest by vegans at a HoneyBaked Ham store in 2003. Privacy advocates
are also concerned about the vast amount of information some fusion
centers collect -- and the sometimes vague limits on its use and storage.
"In Phoenix, we're talking about something like 250,000 police reports a
year: names, addresses, contact information, business cards, tickets,
all the kinds of information that is gathered and that can be of
tremendous value at a national analytical level," said John L. Buchanan,
Phoenix assistant police chief. He added, however, that "we've really
got to be cognizant of the risk" of abuse.
"Fusion center" is a military coinage embraced by civilian homeland
security authorities after Sept. 11, 2001. But turf fights involving the
FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and national intelligence
agencies, as well as local jurisdictions, have delayed the centers'
development two years after Congress passed laws to change intelligence.
To streamline the unwieldy domestic intelligence structure, White House
homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend laid out a new U.S.
road map for intelligence collection on Nov. 27. It urges that fusion
centers be incorporated in a national Information Sharing Environment (ISE).
To support the centers' growing role, and to address complaints from
states that they cannot pay for them alone, the White House is debating
whether to increase funding for them in 2008 and to lift a ban on paying
Federal officials emphasize that the centers will be led from the grass
roots. Charles E. Allen, chief intelligence officer for the Homeland
Security Department, said the centers will be "all hazards, all crime,
all threats," targeted not just at terrorism but also at transnational
gangs, immigrant smuggling and other threats.
Thomas E. McNamara, ISE manager under the director of national
intelligence, said the centers will be state-driven and "primarily
Amid such assurances, it remains unclear just how much fusing of
information is going on day to day.
Existing efforts are insufficient and to blame for "mixed and at times
competing messages" from U.S. officials and limited contributions from
state and local leaders, Townsend wrote.
For example, New York City leaders warned of "a specific threat" to the
city's transit systems in October 2005, which federal officials
simultaneously deemed "noncredible." Meanwhile, U.S. officials say
information flowing from local and state agencies is often of limited use.
An April report by the National Governors Association found that
dissatisfaction with federal information-sharing was growing among state
homeland security directors, with 60 percent unhappy about the
specificity of intelligence. In congressional hearings, state officials
have complained about a lack of federal security clearances and about
overlapping, outdated intelligence databases.
In response, U.S. officials are vowing to speed background checks and to
send Homeland Security intelligence officers to work at 18 state and
local fusion centers in 2007 and 35 by 2008.
Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-Miss.), incoming chairman of the House Homeland
Security Committee, would go further. He proposed a new law enforcement
assistance program to make intelligence-led policing the 21st-century
version of community-oriented policing, into which the federal
government has poured $11.3 billion since 1994 to pay for 120,000 local
"The federal government is not reaching out well enough to the
intelligence needs of the cop on the beat," Thompson said. "We shouldn't
need more blood spilled before we take action necessary to make
/Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report./
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
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