Imagine having all the downsides of Big Brother and none of the benefits: That's what you get with the Department of Homeland Security's vast network of "fusion" centers, according to a damning new report by the Senate's bipartisan Subcommittee on Investigations.
The fusion centers, described by Janet Napolitano as "one of the centerpieces of our counterterrorism strategy," allegedly invade the privacy of Americans while producing "shoddy" reports that are typically "irrelevant" and "useless." It's the sort of report that will find a home on every Ron Paul fan forum and, according to reporters, with good reason: The 77 centers, which have cost an estimated $289 million to $1.4 billion, have a pretty questionable track record. Here are some of the more surprising elements journalists have dug up from the report:
Invasions of privacy. NBC News investigative reporter Michael Isikoff found some especially embarrassing reports about seemingly pointless surveillance of U.S. Muslims:
One fusion center drafted a report on a list of reading suggestions prepared by a Muslim community group, titled “Ten Book Recommendations for Every Muslim.” The report noted that four of the authors were listed in a terrorism database, but a Homeland Security reviewer in Washington chastised the fusion center, saying, “We cannot report on books and other writings” simply because the authors are in a terrorism database. “The writings themselves are protected by the First Amendment unless you can establish that something in the writing indicates planning or advocates violent or other criminal activity.”
Nothing to show for it. The centers are basically a home base for state, local and federal law enforcement officers to share data and coordinate, but the report found that the centers haven't uncovered a single terrorist threat between April 2009 and April 2010. Meanwhile, a lot was going on in the country, as Wired's Spencer Ackerman notes. "During that time, the FBI discovered would-be New York subway attacker Najibullah Zazi; U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane; and, in early May 2010, Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate an SUV in Times Square. DHS has praised the fusion centers’ work in helping on the Zazi and Shahzad cases. The Senate found fusion centers played little, if any, role in either case." In the report, an unnamed DHS official says the centers produce “predominantly useless information” that are “a bunch of crap.”