Multibillion-dollar scheme to set up intelligence ‘fusion centers’ after 9/11 has failed to catch any terrorists, Senate report reveals

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  • 77 fusion centers  were created to encourage law enforcement agencies to share  intelligence
  • Report says the  information-sharing effort cost the federal government from  $300million-$1.4billon
  • One fusion center  reported a Muslim community group’s reading list
  • Congress is  likely to keep the fusion center program

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:07:55 EST, 3  October 2012| UPDATED:08:04 EST, 3 October 2012

A multibillion-dollar information-sharing  network of 77 so-called fusion centers violated Americans’ civil rights and  failed to produce any valuable intelligence on terrorism, according to a  scathing Senate report released on Wednesday.

What began as an attempt to put local, state  and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has  instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, $6,000 laptops,  flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two $45,000 fully equipped Chevrolet  Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.

The 141-page, bipartisan report is an  unflinching evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up  as a crown jewel of its security efforts.

Wasteful: A Senate report concluded that fusion centers improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced no valuable intelligence on terrorism 

Wasteful: A Senate report concluded that fusion centers  improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced no  valuable intelligence on terrorism

The report underscores a reality of post-9/11  Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when  their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of  this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.

Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of  the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on  information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from  their involvement with federal intelligence officials.

Because of a convoluted grants process set up  by Congress, Homeland Security officials don’t know how much they have spent in  their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every  state.

Government estimates range from less than  $300million to $1.4billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state  and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 per cent to 30 per  cent.

Despite that, Congress is unlikely to pull  the plug. That’s because, whether or not it stops terrorists, the program means  politically important money for state and local governments.

A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee  reviewed more than 600 unclassified reports over a one-year period and concluded  that most had nothing to do with terrorism. The panel’s chairman is Democrat  Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Republican Tom Coburn of  Oklahoma.

‘The subcommittee investigation could  identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify  a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist  plot,’ the report said.

When fusion centers did address terrorism,  they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties. The centers  have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the  ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and  advocates of gun rights.

One fusion center cited in the Senate  investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group’s list of book  recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or  talking to Muslim groups about parenting.

No evidence of criminal activity was  contained in those reports. The government did not circulate them, but it kept  them on government computers. The federal government is prohibited from storing  information about First Amendment activities not related to crimes.

‘It was not clear why, if DHS had determined  that the reports were improper to disseminate, the reports were proper to store  indefinitely,’ the report said.

Homeland Security Department spokesman  Matthew Chandler called the report ‘out of date, inaccurate and  misleading.’

He said that it focused entirely on  information being produced by fusion centers and did not consider the benefit  the involved officials got receiving intelligence from the federal  government.

The report is as much an indictment of  Congress as it is the Homeland Security Department. In setting up the  department, lawmakers wanted their states to decide what to spend the money on.

Time and again, that setup has meant the  federal government has no way to know how its security money is being  spent.

Inside Homeland Security, officials have long  known there were problems with the reports coming out of fusion centers, the  report shows.

Hundreds of draft reports sat for months,  rendering them effectively obsolete, while Homeland Security analysts who  reviewed the reports would often deride the information in them as useless.

‘I see nothing to be gained by releasing this  report,’ one analyst wrote repeatedly on several draft reports.

‘This report does not provide the who, what,  when, where, how,’ another official complained about a document.

‘You would have some guys, the information  you’d see from them, you’d scratch your head and say, “What planet are you  from?”2 an unidentified Homeland Security official told Congress.

Until this year, the federal reports officers  received five days of training and were never tested or graded afterward, the  report said.

States have had criminal analysis centers for  years. But the story of fusion centers began in the frenzied aftermath of the  September. 11, 2001, attacks.

The 9/11 Commission urged better  collaboration among government agencies. As officials realized that a terrorism  tip was as likely to come from a local police officer as the CIA, fusion centers  became a hot topic.

But putting people together to share  intelligence proved complicated. Special phone and computer lines had to be  installed. The people reading the reports needed background checks. Some  information could only be read in secure areas, which meant construction  projects.

All of that cost money.

Branching out: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano embraced the idea that fusion centers should look beyond terrorism 

Branching out: Homeland Security Secretary Janet  Napolitano embraced the idea that fusion centers should look beyond  terrorism

Meanwhile, federal intelligence agencies were  under orders from Congress to hire more analysts. That meant state and local  agencies had to compete for smart counterterrorism thinkers. And federal  training for local analysts wasn’t an early priority.

Though fusion centers receive money from the  federal government, they are operated independently. Counterterrorism money  started flowing to states in 2003. But it wasn’t until late 2007 that the Bush  administration told states how to run the centers.

State officials soon realized there simply  wasn’t that much local terrorism-related intelligence. Terrorist attacks didn’t  happen often, but police faced drugs, guns and violent crime every day. Normal  criminal information started moving through fusion centers.

Under federal law, that was fine. When  lawmakers enacted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in 2007, they allowed  fusion centers to study ‘criminal or terrorist activity.’

The law was co-sponsored by Senators Susan  Collins and Joe Lieberman, the driving forces behind the creation of Homeland  Security.

Five years later, Senate investigators found,  terrorism is often a secondary focus.

‘Many fusion centers lacked either the  capability or stated objective of contributing meaningfully to the federal  counterterrorism mission,’ the Senate report said.

‘Many centers didn’t consider  counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said  some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work.’

When Janet Napolitano became Homeland  Security secretary in 2009, the former Arizona governor embraced the idea that  fusion centers should look beyond terrorism.

Testifying before Congress that year, she  distinguished fusion centers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces that  are the leading investigative and analytical arms of the domestic  counterterrorism effort.

‘A JTTF is really focused on terrorism and  terrorism-related investigations,’ she said. ‘Fusion centers are almost  everything else.’

Congress, including the committee that  authored the report, supports that notion. And though the report recommends the  Senate reconsider the amount of money it spends on fusion centers, that seems  unlikely.

‘Congress and two administrations have urged  DHS to continue or even expand its support of fusion centers, without providing  sufficient oversight to ensure the intelligence from fusion centers is  commensurate with the level of federal investment,’ the report said.

And following the release of the report,  Homeland Security officials indicated their continued strong support for the  program

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