The Department of Homeland Security announced a joint initiative with the Department of Defense “to grant select state and major urban area fusion center personnel access to classified terrorism-related information residing in DoD’s classified network.” Fusion centers are state and local programs to gather domestic intelligence. The Department of Justice defines them (6 MB pdf) as a “mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by analyzing data from a variety of sources,” which includes private sector firms and anonymous tipsters.
Under this initiative, select fusion center personnel with a federal security clearance will be able to access specific terrorism-related information resident on the DoD Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet)—a secure network used to send classified data. This classified data will be accessed via DHS’ Homeland Security Data Network (HSDN). DHS will be responsible for ensuring that proper security procedures are followed.
Fusion centers have raised privacy and civil liberties questions, in part because of the lack of information about them — about who is in charge of what and what exactly is happening in these fusion centers. And there have been a number of civil liberties scandals that have arisen from fusion center activities.
In March, the Missouri Information Analysis Center published a report (1.7 MB pdf), “The Modern Militia Movement” that cautioned police to look for certain signs that individuals are part of the militia movement. The fusion center labeled as suspicious people who are supporters of third-party presidential candidates such as Ron Paul and Bob Barr, or anti-tax protesters. The scandal led to a denouncement of the report from the Missouri governor.
Also earlier this year, a report (3.4 MB pdf) was made public from the Virginia Fusion Center (”VFC”) that labeled some university student groups as possible terror threats, stating “University-based students groups are recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group.” The list of suspected organizations sweeps political dissension groups up with Al Qa’ida, Hamas, Hizballah, and white supremacists.
Also, a bulletin (pdf) from the North Central Texas Fusion System asked law enforcement officials to report activities by advocacy groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protesters so the fusion center can “identify potential underlying trends emerging in the North Central Texas region.” The bulletin lists former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, the US Treasury Department, and others as attempting to “gain support for Islamic goals in the United States and providing an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish.”
In its announcement about the joint initiative with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security says, “DHS and DoD remain committed to protecting privacy and civil liberties as well as data and networks in an increasingly vulnerable cyber environment.” Note that the DHS Privacy Office has issued a privacy impact assessment (pdf) of the centers, which echoes many of the problems listed by civil liberties organizations.
[T]he Privacy Office has identified a number of risks to privacy presented by the fusion center program:
1. Justification for fusion centers
2. Ambiguous Lines of Authority, Rules, and Oversight
3. Participation of the Military and the Private Sector
4. Data Mining
5. Excessive Secrecy
6. Inaccurate or Incomplete Information
7. Mission Creep