Congressional Investigation Slams DHS Anti-Terror Centers: Wasted Taxpayer Funds, Created No Useful Intelligence & Violated Civil Liberties

from the have-we-done-anything-useful? dept

Since September 11th, the government has often had something of a blank check (and the equivalent lack of oversight) for anything labeled as being part of an anti-terror effort. As such, it should hardly come as a surprise that programs are wasteful, possibly fraudulent, bad for civil liberties and (oh yeah) completely useless (to actively harmful) in fighting terrorism. A Congressional investigation into the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “fusion centers,” which were supposed to be a key force in anti-terrorism efforts, presents an absolutely scathing condemnation of the effort.

The Subcommittee investigation found that DHS-assigned detailees to the fusion centers forwarded “intelligence” of uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism. The Subcommittee investigation also found that DHS officials’ public claims about fusion centers were not always accurate. For instance, DHS officials asserted that some fusion centers existed when they did not. At times, DHS officials overstated fusion centers’ “success stories.” At other times, DHS officials failed to disclose or acknowledge non-public evaluations highlighting a host of problems at fusion centers and in DHS’ own operations.

Oh, and did we mention how wasteful they were? Apparently, taxpayer money simply “disappeared” into the program often being spent on totally unrelated things like flat screen TVs:

The Subcommittee investigation also reviewed how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of DHS, distributed hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to support state and local fusion centers. DHS revealed that it was unable to provide an accurate tally of how much it had granted to states and cities to support fusion centers efforts, instead producing broad estimates of the total amount of federal dollars spent on fusion center activities from 2003 to 2011, estimates which ranged from $289 million to $1.4 billion. The Subcommittee investigation also found that DHS failed to adequately police how states and municipalities used the money intended for fusion centers. The investigation found that DHS did not know with any accuracy how much grant money it has spent on specific fusion centers, nor could it say how most of those grant funds were spent, nor has it examined the effectiveness of those grant dollars. The Subcommittee conducted a more detailed case study review of expenditures of DHS grant funds at five fusion centers, all of which lacked basic, “must-have” intelligence capabilities, according to assessments conducted by and for DHS. The Subcommittee investigation found that the state and local agencies used some of the federal grant money to purchase: dozens of flat-screen TVs; Sport Utility Vehicles they then gave away to other local agencies; and hidden “shirt button” cameras, cell phone tracking devices, and other surveillance equipment unrelated to the analytical mission of a fusion center.

Of course, this kind of thing isn’t all that uncommon. I remember a story from nearly a decade ago about all the money designated for things like E911 services, instead being used to pay for boots and pens. We recently wrote about the failure of a NY City program to spy on Muslims to turn up a single lead, but this takes that kind of failure to a whole new level.

Of course, the scary part in all this isn’t just the misuse of funds or the failure to produce anything relevant. It’s that what was done almost certainly violated the public’s rights. And apparently, such violations of civil liberties were a very common problem.

The inappropriate reporting appears to have been a regular problem. An April 2009 email from an alarmed senior I&A official stated: “[State and Local Fusion Center officials] are collecting open-source intelligence (OSINT) on U.S. persons (USPER), without proper vetting, and improperly reporting this information through homeland information reporting (HIR) channels,” wrote Barbara Alexander, then director of the Collection and Requirements Division, which oversaw HIR reporting. “The improper reporting of this information through HIR channels is likely a result of a lack of training on proper collection and reporting procedures . . . they are inadvertently causing problems.” In an interview with the Subcommittee, Ms. Alexander said she recalled being told the Reporting Branch was “flooded” with inappropriate reporting. “A lot of information was coming in inappropriately,” she remembered. “The information was not reportable.”

[….] Ms. Schlanger’s presentation, a copy of which DHS provided to the Subcommittee, indicated that areas in which DHS intelligence reporters had overstepped legal boundaries included: Reporting on First Amendment-protected activities lacking a nexus to violence or criminality; reporting on or improperly characterizing political, religious or ideological speech that is not explicitly violent or criminal; and attributing to an entire group the violent or criminal acts of one or a limited number of the group’s members.

The investigation goes on to quote numerous examples of “reports” prepared on information that DHS is not allowed to report on as it violates civil liberties.

In the end, as with so many “anti-terror” programs, what we have is a program that took in a ton of taxpayer funds, with almost no oversight as to what happened to those funds (leading to $1.4 billion disappearing), no intelligence of any use but undertook plenty of efforts that were clearly beyond the mandate of Homeland Security. And all of this is supposed to make us feel safer?

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Comments on “Congressional Investigation Slams DHS Anti-Terror Centers: Wasted Taxpayer Funds, Created No Useful Intelligence & Violated Civil Liberties”

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54 Comments
:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Full Stomach && Cake!

Not surprised.

It’s easy for a regime to exonerate itself by pointing backwards and saying “this thing we did (with money we forcibly took from you, our citizens) was wrong, and should be corrected.”

That’s like saying “I’m sorry I hit you in the stomach 30 times yesterday before stealing your wallet.”

While retrospect and apology are nice, they shouldn’t have been doing such a stupid thing for years (and billion$) to begin with!!

Anonymous Coward says:

“Oh, and did we mention how wasteful they were? Apparently, taxpayer money simply “disappeared” into the program often being spent on totally unrelated things like flat screen TVs”

They need to be watching all those terrorists in high-def when they come to US. Plus, they are great for watching sports in the 99.999999999% of the time when there’s no terrorist arriving.

Boogieman boo says:

Re:

This shit is run by fake Christians and fake politicians, they tell you to listen, but they don’t really tell you their mission. They funded Al-Qaeda, and now they blame the Muslim religion even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician.
They gave him billions of dollars, and they funded his purpose, Fahrenheit 9/11, that’s just scratchin’ the surface.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I am not surprised by the report, let me say this:

While it claims to be a Majority and Minority bi-partisan report, it seems like only minority members’s staff were on the investigating team. That lead minority member is SENATOR TOM COBURN, M.D. (their capitals, not mine), a Republican from Okalahoma.

You don’t think there is even a small tick of political timing in this one?

Come on Mike. Don’t fall for the hype.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re:

Who cares about timing, the fact is its a useless wasteful program. Most of this stuff was conceived under republican rule and continued under the democrats. Stop all that repub/dem political crap and realize what a farce the 2 party system is. They are both the same assholes that don’t give a fuck about you and I. All they care about is the almighty dollar and sell out the public at every chance.

End rant.

Anonymous Coward says:

i doubt if there are many people that are surprised by this. i would suspect that the surprise is that the rest of the so-called ‘keeping us safe’ agencies, including the TSA are still doing what they like, unabated, wasting a fortune in tax payers money and eliminating next to nothing as far as terrorist threats are concerned, other than the ones they make up themselves!

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

Well, all credibility was tossed out the window with mention of Fahrenheit 9/11. Just the title of that damn film pisses me off and shows how stupid the creators are.

If your trying to make a cleaver reference to something maybe you should actually understand what the hell your doing. Fahrenheit 451 the title actually makes sense, 451 degrees is flash point of paper and was relevant to subject of the book. Now how about someone tell me what the hell 911 degrees has to do with anything?

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re:

Well, I’ve actually spent time in a couple of these fusion centers. I can’t speak to the waste, which I imagine is certainly occurring, but let’s not act like there is no value whatsoever from these centers.

In my experience, I saw agents from multiple agencies working closely together and applying some fairly strict policy to govern protection of the data and unintended targets.

Perhaps the bad outweighs the good, but that’s not what I observed.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re:

Nothing wrong with the timing. Senator Coburn has been on a seek and identify, if not destroy, wasteful spending kick for the last couple of years. About the only good thing he has been up to. This is just another round of it. He earlier in the year identified a whole bunch of wasteful research grants the US government has been giving out that he feels could be cut.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re:

I’m not so sure it is really supposed to do either of those. If so they are failing on every level. I do not feel safer. In fact I am finding myself more and more living in a state of fear.

Is it a fear of terrorist jumping out and killing me? No, not at all. In fact I do not fear “terrorists” at all. What does scare the shit out of me is the direction our government is headed in. They are destroying more than any “terrorist” group could ever hope to.

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Just part of the overall financial fraud .....

Things that make you go hhhmmmmmmmmmm?..?

?He said he wanted to expose something at work?

In his $5 million mansion, Robert McKeon, head of private equity firm, Veritas Capital, commits suicide by strangling himself.

Strangling himself ???????

Awhile later, the news reports or claims that Albert Peterson, a wealthy defense contractor, formerly with Northrop Grumman, and presently employed as a Senior Subcontracts Administrator with BAE Systems Information Technology, murdered his wife and children, then turned his gun on himself, committing suicide.

A terrible tragedy, and the news reports further claimed Mr. Peterson was supposed to have committed those horrific acts because he was afraid President Obama would be reelected!

Because he was afraid President Obama would be reelected ?????????????

One enterprising journalist actually did report that the now-deceased Mrs. Peterson had mentioned to a co-worker at defense contractor, Blackbird Technologies, where she worked, that her husband was troubled by something he had learned at BAE which he was seriously concerned about. Albert Peterson had been involved with a BAE unit which a few years previously had been owned by Veritas Capital, then later sold to BAE.

It should be noted that Robert McKeon?s Veritas Capital had made some extremely fortuitous investments in the defense industry shortly prior to 9/11/01. Some months prior to 9/11, Veritas Capital had also purchased Raytheon Aerospace, a subsidiary of Raytheon.

Aboard several of those four ill-fated airliners on 9/11/01 were developers of remote piloting hardware/software from Veritas Capital?s Raytheon Aerospace, and several similar subcontractors (from BAE, I believe).

Sounds more like a brutal cleanup crew was active — cleansing a possible leak of a probably innocent man and his family, and the private equity principal of a highly profitable operation eleven years earlier.

(While it may be the only actual coincidence here, it should also be noted that several years ago — or the last time we checked — the majority shareholders in Northrop Grumman were James Baker and the Bush family.)

Things that make you go hhhmmmmmmmmmm?..?

[With a criminal congress populated with the likes of Darryl Issa, with his arrest record, insurance fraud and arson background, and John Boehner, who washed out of Navy boot camp, then falsely claimed military service during Vietnam when he first ran for the House, we are assured of no real investigation ever taking place.]

Financial Fraud Roll Call:

$2.3 trillion unaccounted for from DoD (announced on 9/10/01 by Pentagon?s comptroller)

$8.7 billion (plus ?) missing during Iraqi war operations

$16.7 billion (plus ?) missing during Afghanistani war operations

Over $1 billion unaccounted for from ?Fusion Center? budget: domestic intelligence collection operation instituted by DHS in conjunction with private sector

http://fcic-static.law.stanford.edu/cdn_media/fcic-reports/fcic_final_report_full.pdf

sgt_doom (profile) says:

Not to be picky, but..

Financial Fraud Roll Call:

$2.3 trillion unaccounted for from DoD (announced on 9/10/01 by Pentagon?s comptroller)

$8.7 billion (plus ?) missing during Iraqi war operations

$16.7 billion (plus ?) missing during Afghanistani war operations

Over $1 billion unaccounted for from ?Fusion Center? budget: domestic intelligence collection operation instituted by DHS in conjunction with private sector

http://fcic-static.law.stanford.edu/cdn_media/fcic-reports/fcic_final_report_full.pdf

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re:

Read the article please, this is not talking about the TSA, it is talking about fusion centers, which are sites dedicated to the sharing of information and joint investigation activities among agencies.

And also don’t mistake the intent of my post–I agree very strongly with many in this community around privacy protections. But as I said, I observed (very small sample set) good and respectful work being done, not what is described here.

Boogieman boo says:

Re:

Watch the videos. If you take this seriously it makes it hard to get through the day. Its sad but true. We created Al-Qaeda. We sold Saddam the chemical weapons. We created the beast. Then we turn around and blame “radical” muslums but the hijackers were from pakistan. You all heard a little about the wire transfer from pakistan:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/abctext_093001.htmlFollowing is the transcript of ABC’s “This Week,” hosted by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts…

DONALDSON: Well, united in the hunt for the terrorists, which continues this weekend on two fronts. Our chief investigative reporter, Brian Ross, has the latest on the FBI’s investigation.

Brian, what’s new?

ROSS: Well, good morning, Sam.

The investigation is divided into two areas, what happened on September 11 and what might happen next. And that’s getting by far the most attention.

Of greatest concern, terror strikes that may be planned or already under way, including, ABC News has been told, intelligence information that American tourists overseas, particularly in Asia, could be targeted for kidnappings or assassinations.

As to September 11, federal authorities have told ABC News they’ve now tracked more than $100,000 from banks in Pakistan to two banks in Florida to accounts held by suspected hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta.

As well this morning, “Time magazine is reporting that some of that money came in the days just before the attack and can be traced directly to people connected to Osama bin Laden.

It’s all part of what has been a successful FBI effort so far to close in on the hijackers’ high command, the money men, the planners, and the mastermind, Sam.
DONALDSON: Thank you, Brian. Brian Ross.

Makes me sick. So yeah I F around a little, just to keep my own sanity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Zach, you are politically naive if you don’t think this is a timed release. Clearly, with less than 60 days until election time, the Republicans will be releasing any and all reports that suggest Obama is a bad guy, in an attempt to bolster their party’s candidate.

The report may or may not be factual. It’s time release makes me think it is less factual, and more about playing gotcha and trying to score political points. I am sure that this report would have been just as good on November 15th, why rush it out now?

Perhaps there needs to be a new law that restricts inquiry reports from behind released in the 90 or 120 days leading up to an election, to avoid this sort of partisan play.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is like the 6th one he has released in the last year. Nothing naive about that.

Perhaps there needs to be a new law that restricts inquiry reports from behind released in the 90 or 120 days leading up to an election, to avoid this sort of partisan play.

Yes. Let’s suppress congressional research until it is convenient for the incumbent president rather than releasing them when they are done and ready to be acted upon.

Michael says:

Re:

It’s hardly a surprise that you’d paint a rosy picture for these fusion centers considering your involvement. Your posts read like damage control.

So I put it to you, name one thing accomplished by a fusion center that A) couldn’t be accomplished by a law enforcement agency, and B) actually made us safer. You can’t do it and I’ll tell you why: because fusion centers were created to monitor ordinary Americans, not to look for imaginary boogeymen.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can, actually. I observed multiple interdictions of individuals later convicted of fraud, drug-related charges, and money laundering.

This was achieved in a much shorter time period than normal by having co-located agents using data all available through the same shared tools.

I’m not sure why you are attacking me, though. I believe that those running these centers need to be held accountable for the issues that have come out of this report. Shame on them.

All I’m saying is that having an extremely narrow view and refusing to acknowledge any positive outcomes or elements of these centers is being blinded by ideology at best and ignorant at worst.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I can, actually. I observed multiple interdictions of individuals later convicted of fraud, drug-related charges, and money laundering.”

Correct me if I’m mistaken but those fusion centers were created for tracking down terrorists, not fraud, drugs and money laundering. But even in the event that they weren’t, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re violating Americans’ rights. So either way they’re going above and beyond the law.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not all of them were created specifically for terrorism, but the majority were and the funding certainly came out of the aftermath of 9/11.

But look, I’m not disagreeing. The report is clear–the fusion centers are either being run so poorly that they fail in their mission or they inherently create those weaknesses.

I can’t say which, I’m just saying that the work I’ve seen and the agents I’ve worked with have been effective, respectful of citizens’ rights, and not something that could easily occur in a different environment.

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