Tag Archives: Open the Government

New Open the Government Report Finds DHS Fusion Centers Violate Privacy & Civil Liberties, Resist Public Accountability, and Produce Useless Information

Ramola D | RAE (Report, Analysis, Op-Ed) | May 13, 2020

Images: Open the Government website

DHS Fusion Centers installed post 2001 in the wake of 9/11 with counter-terrorism aims in mind have failed the country absymally, it appears, according to a new aptly-titled report released in late March, 2020—just before all the COVID-19 Lockdowns hit & froze out this article too–from Open The Government The Cost of Fear: Long-Cited Abuses Persist at U.S. Government-Funded Post -9/11 Fusion Centers” after a 6-month investigation of “freedom of information requests, court documents, grant records, interviews, and news reports.”

Not merely do the 80 fusion centers, created by state and major urban governments across the United States, “exhibit a persistent pattern of violating Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, producing unreliable and ineffective information, and resisting financial and other types of standard public accountability,” they have failed to follow the recommendations for reporting and accountability laid out by a 2012 investigation conducted by the US. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

2012 Senate SubCommittee Investigation Had Earlier Determined Fusion Centers Produced Irrelevant Intelligence & DHS Had Lied to the Public about Fusion Center Successes

2012 Article, Foreign Policy

That 2012 Congressional investigation had already determined that little intelligence of counterterrorism use was obtained from the then-70 fusion centers, that secrecy and rejection of oversight had marked attempts to analyze fusion-center intelligence efforts, which were of “uneven quality” and often endangered civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, and that “DHS did not effectively monitor how federal funds provided to state and local fusion centers were used to strengthen federal counter-terrorism efforts.” DHS had then broadly estimated public funds between $289 million to $1.4 billion had been used from 2003 on, but could not provide adequate accountability for how these funds were spent in counter-terrorism.

“The investigation revealed staggering deficiencies, rampant secrecy, and violations of civil liberties. The subcommittee concluded that, in the decade following 9/11, fusion centers had failed to meet the objectives of their core mission of identifying terrorist plots and preventing acts of terrorism.

“The Subcommittee investigation found that the fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.”

The report further found that DHS had lied to the public about fusion centers’ successes and, despite internal reviews that found serious flaws, had neglected to share information about such problems with Congress. Above all, the subcommittee concluded that fusion centers simply weren’t effective counterterrorism tools, recommended an overhaul of the program and called for Congress to “revisit the statutory basis for DHS support of fusion centers.”

Background, The Cost of Fear…

Opacity in Reportage: Fusion Centers Do Not Provide Clear Program Descriptions

That was in 2012.

Now in 2020, The Cost of Fear reports that while DHS’s FEMA has allocated $1.14 billion via grant programs and President Trump has signed H.R. 504, the “DHS Field Engagement Accountability Act,” a 5-year plan to continue fusion center engagement with federal efforts, and clearly the scope of programs conducted by fusion centers has expanded—into disaster preparedness and public safety, with increased use of advanced, privacy-invasive technologies like facial recognition—Open the Government has found that fusion centers do not maintain clear, descriptive records of counter-terrorism programs funded either federally or through state means.

Curiously, in one case, close scrutiny of Illinois state funds to fusion centers revealed that neither the granting agency nor the receiving agency maintained descriptive program records:

“Open The Government used Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain years of grant records from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), a state-level agency similar to FEMA that disburses federal dollars to programs in the state, including fusion centers. But records of such transfers to local entities over five years showed that all basic description fields were blank. In addition, the local agencies receiving the funds also are not required to provide detailed descriptions.”

Fusion Centers in 2020 | Waste and Opaque Funding, The Cost of Fear

This does raise the question: what exactly were these funds transferred for, and what were they used for?

Were they perhaps used for unConstitutional and extrajudicial privacy-invasive, high-technology-using targeting, surveillance, and monitoring activities, as thousands of Americans have been reporting for two decades now, and as covered here earlier?

Privacy-Intrusions, Civil Rights Violations: Fusion Centers Monitor & Share Info on First-Amendment-Protected Activities

Image: How Fusion Centers are Violating Our Rights, From The Trenches World Report

Emails, news reports, and court records obtained and examined by Open the Government reveal that certain Chicago plans for First-Amendment-protected protests and rallies, non-violent and legal, calling for the abolition of ICE, a DHS agency, were monitored on social media and email; that demonstrators at a protest rally in Memphis were pre-tracked on social media by Chicago Police for “chatter” after a police shooting, curiously, on a State Department intelligence directive, plans for a rally then quickly forwarded to DHS, New York. This covert tracking apparently went on for three months, before legal counsel was queried for advice.

The creation of inter-agency sharing by fusion centers, it turns out, was not marked by caution and vigilance; the Tennessee Fusion Center for instance was quick to share public social-media-monitored information with police departments, Tennessee DHS and FBI units citing, in July 2016, “credible threats to law enforcement” which they were obliged to note were non-specific in nature.

Were these “credible threats” in reality the mere expression of free speech, a Constitutionally-protected right—and not really “credible threats” at all? Were they taken out of context–and therefore being mis-attributed? Were they wrongfully used to “tar everyone with the same brush”?

Is no-one permitted to speak openly on social media of such things as police misbehavior/crime/brutality anymore—without being marked a threat?

“Yet the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio that speech that has no nexus to an immediate threat to commit violence is protected by the First Amendment.”

Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns, Case Study: Tennessee Fusion Center, The Cost of Fear…

Journalists too have been unduly scrutinized and worse. Manuel Duran, a Memphis journalist was arrested alongside protesters and placed in ICE deportation proceedings, compelled into 15 months of detention, although charges against him were dropped. In Boston, Dan Feidt, a writer for Unicorn Riot, who had covered the so-called “straight pride” parade in Boston in 2019, was visited by Boston police and FBI who began pumping him regarding upcoming protests, which Feidt interpreted as gathering intelligence and halted by refusing to engage. He reported that the detectives who visited him had repeated “they were primarily concerned about “keeping everyone safe,”

““Unaccountable joint police forces like the JTTF have a long history of involving themselves in political activity that has nothing to do with terrorism,” Feidt told OTG. “This is a substantial risk to the freedom of expression and the press, and is likely to create chilling effect that is far disproportionate to their core mission.”

Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns, Case Study: Boston Regional Intelligence Center, The Cost of Fear…

Essentially, both in Memphis and in Boston, police and fusion centers had been tracking activists in person and online, monitoring their plans and activities, sharing information gleaned presumably from surveilling desktops and iPads and iPhones, with FBI and DHS—all of it unConstitutional, given that freedom of speech and freedom to assemble, rally, and protest are all First-Amendment rights.

Controversial Technologies & Questionable Intelligence

Fusion Centers (like Police Departments) Use Invasive Facial Recognition & Other Surveillance Tech While Collecting Unreliable Intelligence

Invasive monitoring has been aided in the past two decades by a plethora of controversial surveillance technologies including facial recognition, license-plate reading, and other more exotic surveillance technologies, several covered here in this report on another FOIA-released DARPA-DOJ report, The Limited Effects Technology Program report, which reveals, shockingly, that (among other tech) millimeter-wave sensors, infra-red sensors, and acoustic weapons are being tested under joint Defense & Justice programs on the public.

Excerpt, The Limited Effects Technology Program Report

(A large subject which needs further scrutiny and reportage.)

Open the Government reveals that documents they received on FOIA request and released recently to The New York Times disclosed the involvement of the tech company Clearview AI in unethically harvesting the images of thousands of social media users without their permission and making these available to fusion centers, which are rapidly making use of facial recognition tech, as also are hundreds of police departments, DHS, ICE, Border Patrol, and other federal agencies, also revealed by FOIA request and reported in Buzzfeed News, which reports May 7, 2020 that Clearview AI is currently cancelling its relationships with private companies in midst of heightened scrutiny and potential lawsuits.

Such technologies have however made it possible for JTTF at the FBI and police departments to monitor by stealth, and keep monitoring, despite exposure.

BRIC, the Boston Regional Information Center, was critiqued in 2015 by ACLU for “Policing Dissent” unlawfully, using a social media monitoring tool, Geofeedia, to monitor religious groups, protesters, keywords, and hashtags such as #MuslimLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter, even after public backlash forced Boston police to drop overt pursuit of social media monitoring tech in 2014. The monitoring of First Amendment-protected activities by BRIC was found by Open the Government “to be a constant and persistent issue.”

Chicago police were found to be using facial recognition tech minus any kind of local council oversight, with no privacy policy in place even as they blithely made use of the extensive 22,000-unit CCTV network around the city.

SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports) filled out at the Chicago fusion center were found to be race-based, unreliable, and unlawful in their targeting of citizens guilty of no crime; DHS and FBI therefore received faulty reports on citizens from them.

“Open The Government obtained a series of reports from the Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC), the local Chicago-area fusion center, that were prepared under DHS’s Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) process, better known as the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. OTG found numerous cases of SARs filled out on suspicious males based in part on their ethnic origin. All of the alerts were determined by the fusion center to be unreliable but nonetheless forwarded to DHS and the FBI. Cancellation of the SARs happened after analysts had already collected information on potential U.S. citizens without any evidence of a crime.”

Collection of Unreliable Data Continues, case Study: Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC), The Cost of Fear…

Recommendations to Congress and Homeland Security

Among the recommendations the report makes to Congress are suggestions to monitor the activities of fusion centers to see if they met the earlier recommendations, to see if actionable and accurate sharing of information is evident, to physically review DHS records—rather than their obfuscating statements—to see whether terrorist plots have been identified and averted, to audit the acquisition of surveillance technologies such as facial recognition and social media monitoring, and to predicate any further funding on compliance with civil rights and liberties and federal law.

The report makes recommendations to DHS as well, advising them to be more responsive to Congressional oversight requests, strengthen oversight by the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, halt First-Amendment-protected monitoring, and audit the SARS program.

Report Recommendations Could Be More Pointed and Forceful: Fusion Centers Have Failed Us Abysmally

While this is a much-needed and most useful report, putting into language via investigation much that many observers can see already of the failure of fusion centers in the USA, these appear to be uniformly weighted recommendations, somewhat reticent in their tone, which, given their discoveries, could certainly have been a lot more pointed and forceful.

Judging from what’s been reported here, Fusion Centers have failed abysmally:

They don’t keep proper records or document program descriptions: Meaning, they’re hiding something.

They spy on social media and report free speech there as “credible threats”: Meaning, they’re attacking freedom of speech.

They steal images from social media: Meaning, they’re ignoring privacy protections and laws.

They spy on and harass journalists for info on protests: Meaning, they’re attacking freedom of press and privacy.

They are not “foiling terrorist plots” as they (say they) set out to do after 9/11, they’re obsessively fixating on free speech and freedom to assemble. Meaning: They are targeting activists, media, journalists, community leaders.

They are using highly invasive surveillance technology, some of which is widely publicly known and some not: Meaning, they’re ignoring citizen rights to privacy and to be informed.

They use SARs in a racially-inflected and other-inflected way: Meaning, innocent citizens are frequently wrongfully targeted, watchlisted, and permanently recorded (as criminals: putative criminals, suspected criminals, under-investigation criminals, or, as ACLU reported in April, 2016 (Trapped In A Black Box: Growing Terrorism Watchlisting In Everyday Policing), “non-investigative persons”–who can apparently be covertly experimented on, with deadly LET Program weapons, neuroweapons, and other “non-lethals” while being disappeared in media as mentally-ill “Targeted Individuals”) in DHS and FBI files.

Aren’t these crimes? I mean, just MAJOR crimes?

What is not being said here in this OTG report, of course, is even more deadly than what is being said. Thousands of people have come forward over the past 20 years to report pernicious use of EMF and acoustic neuroweapons on their person, unlawful targeting, offensive community-monitoring by neighbors and malicious character-assassination in their neighborhoods, in conjunction with blacklisting for jobs, cyber-hacking, and frequent vandalism and break-ins at their property—which no amount of reporting to police or FBI is able to stop.

This perhaps accounts for all those records not filled in by the Illinois Fusion Center, as public-private partnerships via fusion centers conceal AI-run slow-kill and remote-human-access neuro/bio experimentation and EMF weapons-testing contracts—as reported here to President Trump last summer—and will perhaps be openly addressed by OTG in their next report.

A pertinent question to ask at this point indeed is: Why is OTG–like the ACLU, like EFF, like Defending Rights and Dissent, like many other prominent civil rights and liberties groups–ignoring the testimonials of thousands of American citizens on this matter–when what they are reporting represents the acme of Fusion Center and FISA Surveillance Overreach and Abuse crimes?

By all counts, fusion centers have failed us abysmally, have overreached into unlawful dragnetting and snooping, have targeted and still target citizens wrongfully and extremely, and should be dissolved.

CoronaVirus/COVID-19 Lockdowns To Hide DHS/FBI/Police Crimes, Failures, Attacks on Citizens?

Now of course, with COVID-Mania, the Gestapo activities of fusion centers and law enforcement departments have been stepped up to the point of absurdity – all this to hide the facts of their uselessness, invasiveness, and illegality, as described in this OTG report?

Image: The Scoop article on California Police Officers standing down after marine vet speaks to them

As FISA and DHS activities both come under scrutiny this year, it is time for citizens to put an end to the excesses of fusion centers and demand a roll back of the extreme surveillance technology and monitoring activities being indulged in by fusion centers as they wrongfully target the populace and keep getting paid for it.

The natural, God-given, civil and human rights and liberties of citizens must be honored at all times.

Not the needs of power-hungry bureaucrats to test unlawfully invasive technology on the people, in guise of “counter terrorism” or “public safety,” and newly and deceptively, “public health.”

The whole concept of America “land of the free, home of the brave” hangs in the balance.

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