Thursday, October 04, 2012

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (September 17, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then get back here.)

This cartoon sure has come in handy and is really appropriate for my thinking today.  Clearly Joel Pett is a genius. His cartoon captures a huge amount of what is so horribly wrong with the US these days.

The Uncle Sam figure is the relevant one this time around.  The subject is security, Homeland Security to be precise.  If ever an cabinet-level department was given an appropriate name, this one is it.  Conceived in the midst of the panic after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security was designed to strip US citizens of even the most basic of rights under the guise of security for the Fatherland.

One program getting attention right now involves data clearinghouses situated throughout the country to sift through and pass along information regarding potential threats.  A Senate subcommittee decided to take a look at the program and its effectiveness. Its conclusion is devastating.

A federal domestic security effort to help state and local law enforcement catch terrorists by setting up more than 70 information-sharing centers around the country has threatened civil liberties while doing little to combat terrorism, a two-year examination by a Senate subcommittee found.

The so-called fusion centers were created in 2003 after the Sept. 11 commission concluded that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies needed to collaborate more in counter-terrorism efforts.

Funded by federal grants, the fusion centers were intended to share national intelligence with state and local law enforcement and to analyze potential terrorist activity detected by police. Homeland Security Department officials have credited the centers for helping uncover terrorist plans, including a 2009 plot to bomb the New York subway.

But the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in a 146-page report released Tuesday that reviewed intelligence reports from fusion centers between April 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010, "could identify nothing that uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution any fusion center made to disrupt an active terrorist plot."

Senate investigators concluded that Homeland Security liaisons to the 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 investigators also found that some local analysts had written inappropriate and potentially illegal reports about constitutionally protected activities of American citizens. Homeland Security officials prevented most from being disseminated. ...

The Senate report rebuts statements by Homeland Security officials that the centers helped uncover terrorist plots, including a 2010 attempt to blow up a sport utility vehicle in Times Square, saying that the same work would have been done through previously existing channels.   [Emphasis added]

The agency's huffy response?

In preparing the report, the committee reviewed intelligence that had been edited to protect classified information. Homeland Security officials said that these redactions limited the investigators' ability to assess the usefulness of intelligence generated by local analysts.

I guess we'll just have to trust them, eh?

But wait, there's more!  This project has a cost in taxpayer funds.  We just can't know exactly how much.

The Homeland Security Department could not say for sure how much federal money had been spent on the centers, the subcommittee found, providing a range of $289 million to $1.4 billion.

That's quite a spread, isn't it?  I guess the real figure is protected classified information as well.  If they told us they'd have to kill us.  But, hey!  At least the fatherland is secure.  Right?

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