Fusion center director admits to spying on 'anti-government' Americans

Have you ever complained about the government? If yes, then hopefully you don’t live in Arkansas.

The goal of fusion centers “is to collect and share information, to prevent bad things from happening,” said Richard Davis, the director of the Arkansas State Fusion Center. He was teaching First Responders about Intelligence gathering techniques when he stated:

"There's misconceptions on what fusion centers are. The misconceptions are that we are conducting spying operations on US citizens, which is of course not the fact. That is absolutely not what we do."

...

Davis says Arkansas hasn't collected much information about international plots, but they do focus on groups closer to home.

"We focus a little more on that, domestic terrorism and certain groups that are anti-government," he says. "We want to kind of take a look at that and receive that information." 

If fusion centers don’t spy on citizens, then as Privacy SOS pointed out, “Perhaps Mr. Davis thinks that people who hold ‘anti-government’ views should not be treated as US citizens?”

The fact is, in the United States, holding "anti-government" views is protected by the First Amendment. And everyone in the United States, not just its citizens, is protected by the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Disliking the government isn't a crime. But that's not stopping many fusion centers from associating dissent with terrorism. 

“Fusion centers,” according to the Department of Homeland Security, “conduct analysis and facilitate information sharing, assisting law enforcement and homeland security partners in preventing, protecting against, and responding to crime and terrorism.” Yet after a two-year investigation into fusion centers, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee stated [PDF] that it "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." Furthermore, fusion centers "often produced irrelevant" and "useless" intelligence reports. "Many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever." It was also confirmed by a former fusion center chief, who said, "There were times when it was, 'what a bunch of crap is coming through'."

DHS fusion center facts state, “Both Fusion Center Directors and the federal government identified the protection of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties (P/CRCL) as a key priority and an important enabling capability to ensure fusion centers protect the privacy and other legal rights of Americans, while supporting homeland security efforts.”

Yet a recent Government Accountability Office study [PDF] into fusion centers has more First-Amendment-protected activities listed as potentially suspicious (nine), than it has as activities that are “defined as criminal and potential terrorism nexus activity” (seven). Those nine are listed as “these activities are generally First-Amendment-protected activities and should not be reported in a SAR or ISE (terrorism)-SAR absent articulable facts and circumstanced that support the source agency’s suspicion that the behavior observed is not innocent, but rather reasonable indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism.”

Fusion center suspicious activity report criteria defined as criminal and potential terrorism activity includes 9 First Amendment protected activities
Fusion center suspicious activity report criteria defined as criminal and potential terrorism activity includes 9 First Amendment-protected activities

The activities listed above are part of the reason that U.S. citizens feel that fusion centers are “spying” on them. According to the GAO report, the “DOJ had not fully assessed its training provided to officers on the front line, which could help ensure that officers receive sufficient information to be able to recognize terrorism-related suspicious activity. DOJ has provided training to executives at 77 of 78 fusion centers, about 2,000 fusion center analysts, and about 290,000 of the 800,000 line officers. DOJ is behind schedule in training the line officers but is taking actions to provide training to officers who have not yet received it.”

Additionally, the GAO report found that suspicious activity reports (SARs) can be submitted through two different systems, the DOJ's Shared Spaces and the FBI’s eGuardian, meaning that the FBI might not receive the “needed information.” The GAO found that of “74 fusion centers, three submit reports through Shared Spaces only and not to eGuardian, and 23 centers submit to Shared Spaces in all cases and to eGuardian on a case-by-case basis.”

GAO list of services provided by Shared Spaces and eGuardian

Although the GAO recommended that the DOJ mitigate risks of supporting two servers, “officials at one fusion center said they use DOJ's Shared Spaces because it allows them to remove suspicious activity reports at their discretion, thus removing it from federated search and complying with their privacy policy.”

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