On Thursday, the New York Times editorialized about a new kind of national security resource: so-called “fusion centers,” or joint anti-terrorism efforts between federal, state, regional, and local law enforcement agencies in which the military may also be playing a role. The Times worries that, with last week's disclosure that President Bush considered sending troops to Buffalo in 2002 to arrest members of a suspected terrorism cell, the wall that is supposed to separate the military from domestic law enforcement in this country is starting to crack.
As the Times points out, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 "generally prohibits the military from law enforcement activities within the United States." Yet earlier this year, the Army dispatched soldiers to patrol the streets of a small Alabama town after a man went on a shooting spree, seemingly crossing the line into domestic law enforcement.
For several years, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been warning that military personnel are taking part in fusion centers. The ACLU is also concerned about the involvement of private data-mining companies. Allowing private contractors to gather and disseminate sensitive intelligence and law enforcement information poses significant privacy risks, to say nothing of the possibility that such contractors may be performing inherently government functions. Another troubling aspect is the cloak of secrecy under which fusion centers typically operate.
Wikileaks, the online whistleblower resource, recently posted a batch of documents suggesting that fusion centers may also be rife with conflicts of interest. POGO is unable to download this massive PDF file, but Wikileaks' summary says that the documents--part of a 1525-page confidential file--detail efforts by the Washington State police to privatize criminal intelligence through a fusion center called the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC), which is housed at the FBI's Seattle field office. The file appears to include pricing, proposals, contracts, and background check information on specific individuals seeking jobs at the center.
According to Wikileaks, resumes show that some applicants have traveled back and forth through the revolving door between the military and private industry, sometimes remaining in the same building while doing so. It seems that one applicant left the Army to work for the research and engineering firm SAIC at the same base. She then went on to work for another contractor before re-entering the Army.
POGO would sure love to take a look at these documents. If anyone has better luck downloading the file, we urge you to post your findings in the comments.
-- Neil Gordon