OCTOBER 03, 2012
A huge post-9/11 counterterrorism program that’s received hundreds of millions of dollars has failed miserably to provide any useful intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has covered up the mess from both Congress and the public.
Scathing details of the wasteful program were uncovered in the course of a two-year bipartisan investigation by a key U.S. Senate oversight committee. This week the panel released a 141-page report blasting one of the country’s largest domestic counterterrorism programs, fusion centers that are supposed to share terrorism-related information between state, local and federal officials.
Nine years and more than $300 million later, the national centers have failed to provide any valuable information, according to investigators. Instead they have 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.”
A review of more than a year of fusion center reports nationwide determined that they were irrelevant, useless or inappropriate. None uncovered any terrorist threats nor did they contribute to the disruption of an active terrorist plot, the report says. In fact, DHS officials acknowledged that the information produced by the fusion centers was “predominantly useless.” One branch chief actually said “a bunch of crap is coming through.”
DHS has long known about the program’s failures but has opted to conceal the “serious problems plaguing its fusion center and broader intelligence efforts” from Congress and the American public, the report says. Adding insult to injury, the agency can’t account for a chunk of change (as much as $1.4 billion, according to the report) earmarked for the fusion program and some centers listed by the DHS don’t even exist.
It gets better; a review of the expenditures of five fusion centers found that federal funds were used to purchase dozens of flat screen TVs, two sport utility vehicles, cell phone tracking devices and other surveillance equipment unrelated to the analytical mission of an intelligence center. “Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” said Senator Tom Coburn, the Subcommittee’s ranking member who initiated the investigation.
Getting the records to conduct the probe wasn’t easy. When congressional investigators started digging around for information, DHS went into serious cover-up mode, initially refusing to provide lawmakers with crucial records by asserting that they were protected by privilege, too sensitive to share, by confidentiality agreements, or did not exist at all.
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