In her big speech in New York today, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, praised the so-called “fusion centers” that serve as hubs for intelligence produced by federal agencies to be shared with local and state law enforcement. Fusion centers are a “a critical part of our nation’s homeland security capabilities,” Napolitano said. That’s what worries the American Civil Liberties Union’s Michael German.
It’s too easy to pollute the information bloodstream of the fusion centers, he said. “That’s what we’ve seen out of the fusion centers: erroneous, misleading information,” said German, a former FBI special agent. “There’s a lack of accountability” at the centers that enables poor intelligence to “pollute the entire system that local, state and federal law enforcement is relying on. If that system becomes polluted it’s no longer effective,” and the chances for civil liberties abuses are “greatly expanded.” Like for instance: a fusion center bulletin in Texas earlier this year encouraging police to spy on Muslim organizations and antiwar groups.
That’s somewhat ironic, considering a different part of Napolitano’s speech encouraged American counterterrorism efforts to emerge from the “state of fear” they’ve been frozen in since 2001. German said he liked hearing Napolitano argue that “spreading fear wasn’t helping communities become more effective at protecting themselves” and that “a lot of the rhetoric of terrorism is actually counterproductive.” Whether the fusion centers will contribute to Napolitano’s desired “state of vigilance” or will contribute to American Muslim and other communities continuing to feel like law-enforcement targets remains to be seen.
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