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Message to Obama and Romney: how not to catch a terrorist

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  October 3, 2012 10:48 AM

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A scathing bi-partisan expose of domestic spying and government waste was issued today, once again showing that “security theater” does not keep us safe--but does waste tax dollars and threaten American freedom.

The report by the bi-partisan Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations shows--in unintentionally comic detail--how local intelligence “fusion” spying centers waste millions in tax dollars, violate civil liberties of ordinary Americans and utterly fail to stop terrorists.

According to the report, these state-based domestic spying 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.”

”Homeland Security is probably the most ineffective agency in the government besides Social Security,” said Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn in today’s New York Times. Fusion centers “are not accomplishing anything in terms of terrorism.”

What a boondoggle!!

But do you think either President Obama and his rival, Governor Mitt Romney, will touch this fiasco in tonight’s debate? I doubt it, given that both men have played a role in building this wasteful and ineffective domestic spying apparatus.

The original justification for building “fusion” spying centers was to collect and fuse together lots of tidbits of information about people and then “connect the dots” to catch and stop terrorists. Sadly, today’s investigation found, fusion centers instead collect “predominantly useless information” about ordinary Americans and have yet to stop or catch a single terrorist.

Zero hits? What--is Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine in charge?

Okay. That’s not fair. In reality, here in Massachusetts, it was Mitt Romney who set up the local fusion spying center --and Governor Deval Patrick who has kept them going.

In 2004, without any public debate or hearings, then-Governor Romney issued an executive order setting up the Commonwealth Fusion Center.

Not to be outdone, the Boston Police Department set up their own spy shop--the “Boston Regional Intelligence Center” or BRIC--the following year. In 2005, Governor Romney then issued a press release urging governors across the land to build their own fusion spying centers.

And they did! As of yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security reported publicly to Congress that there were 72 fusion spying centers around the nation.

Oh…wait. Turns out, Homeland Security miscounted.

According to the Senate investigation, there are actually only 68 state fusion spying centers--four were phantom centers, apparently funded by DHS but never built. Homeland Security also can’t account for another $1.4 billion of our tax dollars that were earmarked but never spent to operate fusion centers.

Talk about not connecting the dots!

The billions of tax-dollars that could be traced by the bi-partisan commission showed that money was spent to purchases of “dozens of flat-screen TVs, Sport Utility Vehicles they then gave away to other local agencies; hidden “shirt button” cameras, cell phone tracking devices, and other surveillance equipment unrelated to the analytical mission of a fusion center.”

There outta be a law against this kind of waste--and against spying on ordinary Americans. Here in Massachusetts, the state legislature can and should shut down the fusion spying centers or--at a minimum--pass a law to ensure that these information hubs stick to crime-fighting and keep their noses out of lawful First Amendment-protected activity. Requiring reasonable suspicion is a pretty basic standard, and a public audit requirement would make sure it’s upheld.

Until then, we can hope that local fusion center operatives will spend their days watching CSI reruns on tax-payer provided flat-screen televisions.

At least that way they'd be watching criminals--albeit fake ones--instead of wasting money and invading privacy by spying on real ordinary people.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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