Homeland Security "fusion centers" are intrusive and wasteful, report finds

The 9/11 Commission report given to President Bush in 2004 suggested that a lack of information sharing helped enable the September 11th terrorist attack (Photo: Stringer, Reuters).
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Brooks Hays

An expansive information-sharing initiative spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing little to fight terrorism, according to a Senate investigation — but it is collecting a wealth of information about innocent Americans, and spending lots of money.

The report finds that what began as an effort to encourage local, state and federal agencies to work together in a post-9/11 world quickly ballooned into a massive program, as The Associated Press reports. Much of the $1.4 billion it spent has simply supplemented local crime-fighting efforts. Some has gone toward questionable expenses like flat-screen TVs and highly-accessorized SUVs.

The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee pored over more than 600 unclassified reports in its research. It concluded that the program failed to gather useful intelligence or contribute to foiling terrorist plots.

The report claims the intelligence was "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

Security officials thought that the fusion centers in each state would help connect federal agencies to an extensive network of on-the-ground eyes and ears. But as the AP reports, the centers have become been better known for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, pro-life and pro-choice protesters, anti-war demonstrators and gun rights advocates than for yielding intelligence breakthroughs.

DHS spokesperson Matthew Chandler called the report "out of date, inaccurate and misleading," arguing that it focused on information coming out of the fusion centers, and failed to recognize how information shared by the federal government may have helped local law enforcers.

The report's findings further fuel what the New York Times editorial board termed the "Post-9/11 Conundrum" — the ongoing struggle to locate the "balance that protects both national security and civil liberties."