Maine Representative Charlotte Warren has introduced a bill that would compel oversight of the state’s lone fusion center and the center’s budget. The fusion center is formally known as the Maine Information and Analysis Center.
The Maine center is already supposed to be overseen by a three-member advisory board that includes Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In September, Wathen told the Portland Press Herald “that years have passed since the board met and tried to evaluate the center’s activities.”
“It was rather hard to get your hands around what they were actually doing,” Judge Wathen told the paper.
In a statement released yesterday Representative Warren said, “The board charged with overseeing the center hasn’t met in years because when they have, there is little information given to them. The people of the State of Maine have the right to know how their government is working for them.”
Fusion centers are notorious for domestic spying and for issuing erroneous reports. For example, there are probably six fusion centers in Texas. One of them, the El Paso Intelligence Center, houses, according to the Wall Street Journal, “a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., (and) a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists.” The El Paso Intelligence Center also issued an “intelligence report” that claimed members of the armed forces were “supplying the (Bandidos) gang with grenades and C4 explosives,” in order to carry out attacks on law enforcement officials and their families.
Fusion Centers received something more than $461 million in federal funds last year. The exact amount is unknown.
A two-year bipartisan investigation by the U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published a 141 page report in October 2012 that found that fusion centers spent federal funds on tricked out Chevy Tahoes, shirt button cameras, computers for police to better access fusion center data and big screen televisions. One fusion center spent “$75,000 on 55 flat-screen televisions…When asked what the televisions were being used for, officials said they displayed calendars, and were used for ‘open-source monitoring.’ Asked to define ‘open-source monitoring,’ officials said they meant ‘watching the news.’”
There are an estimated 80 fusion centers in the United States but the exact number is unknown because some fusion centers are fictional.
For example, the Senate report found that, “Since 2009, the Department of Homeland Security has counted among its officially recognized fusion centers an entity in Wyoming it has referred to as the Wyoming Fusion Center…. According to Wyoming state officials, their state has no fusion center and never intended to create one. ‘It confuses me,’ said Kebin Haller, Deputy Director for the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). They have a criminal intelligence center…but ‘we’ve chosen not to refer to it as a fusion center.’”
The report also found that the “DHS has counted among its recognized fusion centers the Delaware Valley Information Center (DVIC), which it locates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…. Since 2006, DHS has awarded millions of dollars in grant funds in support of the project. In response to a 2010 survey from the Subcommittee, however, Philadelphia officials stated the center did not yet exist.”
Eight years ago, when the danger fusion centers posed to the Republic was much less dire, the American Civil Liberties Union found “five overarching problems with these domestic intelligence operations (that) put Americans’ privacy and civil liberties at risk:
• Ambiguous Lines of Authority. In a multi-jurisdictional environment it is unclear what rules apply, and which agency is ultimately responsible for the activities of the fusion center participants.
• Private Sector Participation. Some fusion centers incorporate private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, potentially undermining privacy laws designed to protect the privacy of innocent Americans, and increasing the risk of a data breach.
• Military Participation. Some fusion centers include military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
• Data Fusion and Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
• Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are characterized by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt.
In its report, the ACLU concluded, “The lack of proper legal limits on the new fusion centers not only threatens to undermine fundamental American values, but also threatens to turn them into wasteful and misdirected bureaucracies that, like our federal security agencies before 9/11, won’t succeed in their ultimate mission of stopping terrorism and other crime.”