Privacy SOS

Senator Coburn says we need to act on fusion center report, and a modest proposal towards that end

Hurricane Sandy. Image: NASA.

Remember that Senate subcommittee for investigations report on fusion centers? The one that said that they produce "a bunch of crap," waste our money, duplicate anti-terrorism efforts and invade our privacy? 

Senator Tom Coburn wants us to take that report seriously. In an op-ed published this week in Defense News, he writes that there is a "clear need for reform." 

Like us, Coburn is concerned not only about DHS' "disregard for fiscal accountability," but also about "inadequate concerns for privacy" at fusion centers nationwide. That "inadequate concern" enabled serious abuse here in Boston at the local police fusion center, our "Policing Dissent" report shows. But Boston is far from the only example of fusion center-based spying on perfectly legal dissent. The problems we discovered here resonate nationally.

And towards what end? All of that money spent and all of those rights violations for what, exactly? According to the Senate report and to Senator Coburn, not much. The Senator writes:

Despite reviewing 13 months worth of intelligence reporting, the subcommittee could identify no reporting that uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a significant contribution any fusion center made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.
Worse, the insane amount of money spent to do basically nothing but needlessly invade our privacy itself could constitute a national security threat, he argues:
Finally, DHS could not tell us how much money is spent on fusion centers. At a time when we are drowning in a $16 trillion national security threat, this is unacceptable. No federal agency should be unaware of how much money it has or how every dollar is spent. As former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently said: “The greatest threat to our national security is our debt.”
Whether you agree with Adm. Mike Mullen about the national debt or not, one thing is clear: we would be better off burning all that money than using it to do us all harm by funding mini spy centers shown to be untrustworthy absent independent oversight.
So is it time to stop funding fusion centers until they are forced to account for their actions, through external accountability and built-in transparency mechanisms? Yes. Senator Coburn is right to argue that we can't allow the important Senate subcommittee report to simply gather dust in the National Archives. We need to act on its findings.
What to do?
We could simply shutter most fusion centers and we'd be better off for it. But given the recent dangerous storms that sent large areas of the eastern seaboard reeling (and from which many areas have yet to recover), maybe it'd be better to turn all of those fancy spy offices into climate change response centers. 
After all, while Mike Mullen says that "the greatest threat to our national security is our debt," plenty of his military colleagues have pointed the finger at climate change.
From fusion centers to extreme weather and emergency response centers? Why not? The worst that could happen is that we'd be better prepared for storms that never come. Sounds better than invading our privacy for no good reason.

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