Missouri Fusion Center Labels As Suspicious Supporters of Ron Paul and Bob Barr, and Income Tax Critics
The Missouri Information Analysis Center (“MIAC”) recently published a report, “The Modern Militia Movement” that cautioned police to look for certain signs that individuals are part of the militia movement and to be wary of such people. (1.7 MB pdf of report found at Infowars — note that I do not support all of the comments made in that posting, though I defend Infowars’ right to say them. News report here; another informative blog post here — including some statements I do not support.) There has been an uproar because it is clear the MIAC is creating a “dangerous person” profile that includes political affiliation and policies.
Political paraphernalia: Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups. It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty, or Libertarian material. These members are usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr.
The report also deems as suspicious those individuals who are critical of the Federal Reserve System and income taxes. It comes amid increasing questions about privacy and civil liberty problems with fusion centers, and as new US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been championing the widespread use of fusion centers (more on that below). (The Congressional Research Service published a report (pdf) about fusion centers and questions surrounding them in 2007.)
MIAC is a “fusion center,” defined by (pdf) the Department of Justice 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. MIAC has defined itself and its mission:
MIAC is the mechanism to collect incident reports of suspicious activities to be evaluated and analyzed in an effort to identify potential trends or patterns of terrorist or criminal operations within the state of Missouri. MIAC will also function as a vehicle for two-way communication between federal, state and local law enforcement community within our region.
The privacy and civil liberties debate over fusion centers has only become more heated as more evidence of the centers’ use has become public. A report from the ACLU, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?,” identifies problems with fusion centers, including: ambiguous lines of authority, role of private corporations and the military, use of data mining and secrecy surrounding the centers. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a privacy impact assessment (pdf) of the centers, which echo many of the problems listed by the ACLU:
[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
The MIAC report follows recent disturbing revelations about data collection and dissemination by law enforcement officials in Maryland and Texas. There’s the story of the Maryland state police’s monitoring of peaceful activists and designation of them as terrorists in federal and state databases. State officials have admitted they spied on the activists in 2005 and 2006, and that the Department of Homeland Security aided in the wrongful surveillance and targeting of peaceful activists.
There’s also the recent bulletin (pdf) from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking 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.”
Fusion centers came up in recent Congressional testimony by new DHS Secretary Napolitano, and she spoke last week at the National Fusion Center Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. She mentioned that DHS has “provided $327 million in direct funding to Fusion Centers, another $812 million for broader information-sharing which includes other types of technologies.” She described her view of what fusion centers evolve into:
I believe that Fusion Centers will be the centerpiece of state, local, federal intelligence-sharing for the future and that the Department of Homeland Security will be working and aiming its programs to underlie Fusion Centers. […]
I think […] at the federal level in our organizational strategy [we need] to make clear that Fusion Centers are not just about isolated information-sharing, but they really are about taking information gathered at the state and local level and putting it into an analytical product that can be used at the federal level and that the federal law enforcement agencies are sharing the reverse at the state and local as much as can be done.
Napolitano urged the use of private sector corporations in fusion center work:
I think the role of the private sector actually is like Fusion Centers, and it’s an evolving thought, because normally the private sector was not included in — in kind of law enforcement thinking or intelligence thinking, but when we are thinking about the Fusion Center, which has a much larger role in a way than a [Joint Terrorism Task Force], private sector partners are key. They — they can help in terms of sharing of information. They certainly are essential in terms of response and recovery and they need to be prepared and trained and co-located to do that […]
There are myriad questions about the government data in fusion center files, as well as the use of private sector organizations to collect data. For example, in 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive No. 6 consolidated administration of the no-fly, selectee and other security watch lists under the jurisdiction of the Terrorist Screening Center. When the Department of Justice Inspector General reported on (pdf) the Center in 2007, he found that the watch lists remain filled with errors. He said the data collection and dissemination structure helped cause “inaccurate and incomplete watchlist records.” The Inspector General said this indicates “a deficiency in the integrity of watchlist information.”
There have been numerous examples demonstrating the consequences of inaccurate and incomplete information in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system, which makes criminal history information widely available to police officers and law enforcement officials in the US. The problem of record accuracy has plagued the system for years. According to a report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, “[i]n the view of most experts, inadequacies in the accuracy and completeness of criminal history records is the single most serious deficiency affecting the Nation’s criminal history record information systems.”
The private sector databases used by fusion centers are also full of mistakes. For example, when a news reporter looked up his file on databroker Intellius.com, he found the record said he was charged with child molestation (he wasn’t) and that he had a close male relative who was convicted of manslaughter (the reporter had never even heard of the man). There are numerous errors in the records of databroker ChoicePoint, used by the FBI and IRS. A man bought his ChoicePoint record and found that the file showed he had died in 1976. Another man’s report included numerous crimes that he never committed. “In Florida I’m a female prostitute (named Ronnie); in Texas I’m currently incarcerated for manslaughter,” according to the man. Also, “In New Mexico I’m a dealer of stolen goods. Oregon has me as a witness tamperer. And in Nevada — this is my favorite — I’m a registered sex offender.”
Napolitano also rejected the assertion that fusion centers amount to domestic surveillance agencies, watching over innocent Americans legally and peacefully exercising their Constitutional rights.
[C]ontrary to what I think some have presumed and I think really presumed without talking with anyone who’s involved in Fusion Centers, Fusion Centers are not domestic spying agencies and they are not designed to invade the privacy of the American citizen. Know what? We can and we will make sure that we have effective law enforcement in this country while respecting the rights of American citizens and that means the rightest of the rights of American citizens.
Above, I spoke about civil liberty questions surrounding dubious actions of Missouri and Texas fusion center officials. And I am sure there are more cases out there. The federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, has a history of surveillance of peaceful protesters. DHS officers have observed and photographed vegans who were peacefully protesting outside a Honey Baked Ham store, and have told library patrons that their legal Internet viewing habits were illegal and demanded to interrogate one individual in particular (the librarian intervened and once police were called, the DHS officers were the ones questioned). The Defense Department admitted it gathered data on anti-war protesters (including peaceful Quakers) and groups opposed to military recruitment activities
For more on non-fusion center surveillance, check out my previous post about attempts by the FBI to infiltrate Republican National Convention protesters and the publicly condemned domestic surveillance program, COINTELPRO.