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WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Monday that it was giving state and local fusion centers access to the classified military intelligence in Department of Defense (DOD) databases. The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community.
Allowing fusion centers access to DOD classified information appears to be a shift in policy. The New York Times reported in July that “Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said … that fusion centers were not intended to have a military presence, and that she was not aware of ones that did.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has long warned the government about the dangers posed by fusion centers without proper oversight and, in 2007, released a report entitled, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” The report, which was updated last year, identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and their excessive secrecy.
According to DHS, there were 70 fusion centers in the United States as of February 2009. It is unknown how many include military personnel.
The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
“As fusion centers gain more and more access to Americans’ private information, the information about them being made available to the American public remains woefully inadequate. There is a stunning lack of oversight at these fusion centers and, as we’ve seen, these centers are rapidly becoming a breeding ground for overzealous intelligence activities. Opening the door for domestic law enforcement to gain access to classified military intelligence coupled with no guidelines restricting the military’s role in fusion centers is a recipe for disaster.
“Congress must take the necessary steps to ensure that a thorough and rigorous oversight mechanism is in place to ensure that Americans’ most sensitive information is protected. Without proper guidelines, fusion centers will continue to threaten our privacy while doing nothing to improve security.”
To read the ACLU’s report, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers,” go to: www.aclu.org/fusion