Since September 11, the federal government has poured up to $1.4 billion into the creation of the Department of Homeland Security’s anti-terrorism “fusion centers.” Today, a Senate Committee report decried these so-called information-sharing centers as “irrelevant” and “useless” wastes of money that have not uncovered a single terrorism threat.
“The Subcommittee’s two-year investigation found that DHS’s support of fusion centers has yielded little, if any, benefit to federal counterterrorism intelligence efforts... The fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever," the report found.
Testimony from people inside the fusion centers was often more explicit.
“There were times when it was, ‘What a bunch of crap is coming through,’” Harold “Skip” Vandover, the former director of DHS’s reporting branch, testified in the report.
The fusion centers grew out a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission Report, which revealed that disparate law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and CIA and local police forces rarely, if ever, shared information. Their lack of cooperation made it difficult for the agencies to piece together threats and potential attacks, the Commission Report concluded. The solution: information centers where the Department of Homeland Security would “fuse” together the information in the efforts to ward off future terrorism attacks.
A decade later, we have not seen another massive terrorism attack on U.S. soil--but that’s no thanks to the fusion centers, says the Senate Report.
"The ... 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.
The chapter headings of the 141-page report read like a laundry list of a good idea gone haywire. Topics include the fact that “Reporting from Fusion Centers was Often Flawed, Unrelated to Terrorism,” that “DHS Does Not Know How Much It Has Spent to Support Fusion Centers,” and that “Some DHS-Recognized Fusion Centers Do Not Exist.”
The report includes some shocking examples of misspent taxpayer money, which DHS is still trying to uncover. Unsurprisingly, Arizona led the charge in abusing federal funds, diverting the grants intended to enhance the state’s Counter Terrorism Information Center to instead buy two fully outfitted Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs, pimped out with “lights, flashers, a siren and public address microphone, an anti-theft device, a notebook holder, computer mount, [and] an external cup holder...”
In Cleveland, Ohio, the federal DHS money went toward buying specialized computers for the county medical examiner’s office. According to the report, “when asked how the purchase of the computers would benefit the fusion center and could be portrayed as a fusion center expenditure, the official said he assumed that in the aftermath of a mass casualty event, information about the human remains would have “intelligence value.” He said he did not know whether the laptops were able to connect and securely transmit information to the fusion center.” Meanwhile, a DHS assessment of the Cleveland fusion center in 2010 concluded that it was “all but completely incapable of functioning as a fusion center.” But don’t worry, because the county medical examiner’s office is now all hooked up--thanks to the terrified-of-terrorism U.S. taxpayers.
Most "puzzling" to the report, is the supposed DHS fusion center in Philadelphia, which has received millions of dollars in federal grants, but, as of August 2012, still does not exist.
This report comes on the heels of the revelation that the New York Police Department’s costly (and possibly unconstitutional) decade-long surveillance of Muslims uncovered not a single terror threat, further raising questions about the point of pouring billions of dollars into anti-terrorism efforts that have shown little to no benefit--especially during today’s acute budgetary crisis.
The report's picture of the DHS terror centers are so bad that even Republicans are lining up against them.
"It's troubling that the very 'fusion' centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans' civil liberties," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a statement.
But the most damning words seem to be coming from people inside the centers themselves.
"You would have some guys, the information you'd see from them, you'd scratch your head and say, `What planet are you from?"' an unidentified Homeland Security official told Congress.
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