Fusion Center Encourages Improper Investigations Of Lobbying Groups And Anti-War Activists

February 25, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org   

 

WASHINGTON – A Texas fusion center's “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” made public last night is the latest example of inappropriate police intelligence operations targeting political, religious and social activists for investigation. The North Central Texas Fusion System bulletin states that it is “imperative for law enforcement officers to report” the activities of lobbying groups, Muslim civil rights organizations and anti-war protest groups in their areas.     

“This memo is not a plea for legitimate intelligence, and seems to endorse discrimination against Muslims,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The idea that the tolerance advocated by the groups being targeted would be treated as a menace to American security demonstrates a disregard for civil liberties and a disdain for democracy itself. The kind of indiscriminate and unlawful investigations this bulletin calls for always results in a chilling effect on free speech and association.”  

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. There are currently 70 fusion centers in the United States.   

"It should be obvious with the constant news of increased violence in Mexico that Texas needs law enforcement to focus on real criminal threats instead of targeting religious minorities and groups with unpopular political opinions." Rebecca Bernhardt, ACLU TX Policy Director said, "The North Central Texas Fusion Center should be reviewed to determine whether it can contribute to the serious public safety mission of Texas or not."  

Proponents have claimed all fusion center personnel receive civil rights training, and that this training is sufficient to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans living in the communities where fusion centers operate, but this is obviously not the case. The ACLU has long warned that ambiguities regarding who controls these fusion centers and a complete lack of oversight over their intelligence activities would lead to violations like this.  

“The Texas fusion center's bulletin shows an unhealthy disregard for constitutional rights and democratic processes,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “It demonstrates the lack of professionalism that exists at fusion centers and the severe lack of oversight at the state, local and federal levels. According to its website, North Central Texas Fusion System bulletins are disseminated to thousands of people in over a hundred different agencies, and this report directs law enforcement officers to ‘report' on the political activities of advocacy groups. The web of connections it weaves – drawing parallels between Muslim civil liberties groups, lobbying organizations, peace activists, hip hop bands, a former congresswoman and even the U.S. Treasury Department – would be comical if not for the real consequences that these organizations and individuals might face.”  

In 2007, the ACLU released a report entitled, “What's Wrong With Fusion Centers?” which was updated last year. The report 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 the excessive secrecy surrounding the centers As a national trend continues to close down public information about this domestic intelligence network, it continues to grow out of control.Recent revelations of the Department of Homeland Security's role in the Maryland State Police Department's surveillance of peace groups have deepened the ACLU's concerns, particularly because a DHS intelligence analyst is reportedly assigned to the North Central Texas Fusion System.   

To read the ACLU's report on fusion centers, go to:
www.aclu.org/fusion

Statistics image