Last Updated:December 1 @ 07:57 am

Intelligence effort named citizens, not terrorists

By Matt Apuzzo and Eileen Sullivan

WASHINGTON (AP) - A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program created in the aftermath of 9/11 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a Senate report concludes. It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to control.

What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.

The lengthy, bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts. The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.

Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.

Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. Government estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 percent to 30 percent.

Despite that, Congress is unlikely to pull the plug. That's because, whether or not it stops terrorists, the program means politically important money for state and local governments.

A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee reviewed more than 600 unclassified reports over a one-year period and concluded that most had nothing to do with terrorism. The panel's chairman is Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

"The subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," the report said.

When fusion centers did address terrorism, they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties. The centers have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.

One fusion center cited in the Senate investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group's list of book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.

No evidence of criminal activity was contained in those reports. The government did not circulate them, but it kept them on government computers. The federal government is prohibited from storing information about First Amendment activities not related to crimes.

"It was not clear why, if DHS had determined that the reports were improper to disseminate, the reports were proper to store indefinitely," the report said.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Matthew Chandler called the report "out of date, inaccurate and misleading." He said that it focused entirely on information being produced by fusion centers and did not consider the benefit the involved officials got receiving intelligence from the federal government.

The report is as much an indictment of Congress as it is the Homeland Security Department. In setting up the department, lawmakers wanted their states to decide what to spend the money on. Time and again, that setup has meant the federal government has no way to know how its security money is being spent.

Inside Homeland Security, officials have long known there were problems with the reports coming out of fusion centers, the report shows.

"You would have some guys, the information you'd see from them, you'd scratch your head and say, 'What planet are you from?'" an unidentified Homeland Security official told Congress.

Until this year, the federal reports officers received five days of training and were never tested or graded afterward, the report said.

States have had criminal analysis centers for years. But the story of fusion centers began in the frenzied aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The 9/11 Commission urged better collaboration among government agencies. As officials realized that a terrorism tip was as likely to come from a local police officer as the CIA, fusion centers became a hot topic.

But putting people together to share intelligence proved complicated. Special phone and computer lines had to be installed. The people reading the reports needed background checks. Some information could only be read in secure areas, which meant construction projects.

All of that cost money.

Meanwhile, federal intelligence agencies were under orders from Congress to hire more analysts. That meant state and local agencies had to compete for smart counterterrorism thinkers. And federal training for local analysts wasn't an early priority.

Though fusion centers receive money from the federal government, they are operated independently. Counterterrorism money started flowing to states in 2003. But it wasn't until late 2007 that the Bush administration told states how to run the centers.

State officials soon realized there simply wasn't that much local terrorism-related intelligence. Terrorist attacks didn't happen often, but police faced drugs, guns and violent crime every day. Normal criminal information started moving through fusion centers.

Under federal law, that was fine. When lawmakers enacted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in 2007, they allowed fusion centers to study "criminal or terrorist activity." The law was co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the driving forces behind the creation of Homeland Security.

Five years later, Senate investigators found, terrorism is often a secondary focus.

"Many fusion centers lacked either the capability or stated objective of contributing meaningfully to the federal counterterrorism mission," the Senate report said. "Many centers didn't consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work."

When Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary in 2009, the former Arizona governor embraced the idea that fusion centers should look beyond terrorism. Testifying before Congress that year, she distinguished fusion centers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces that are the leading investigative and analytical arms of the domestic counterterrorism effort.

"A JTTF is really focused on terrorism and terrorism-related investigations," she said. "Fusion centers are almost everything else."

Congress, including the committee that authored the report, supports that notion. And though the report recommends the Senate reconsider the amount of money it spends on fusion centers, that seems unlikely.

"Congress and two administrations have urged DHS to continue or even expand its support of fusion centers, without providing sufficient oversight to ensure the intelligence from fusion centers is commensurate with the level of federal investment," the report said.

And following the release of the report, Homeland Security officials indicated their continued strong support for the program.

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Intelligence effort named citizens, not terrorists, 9.1 out of 10 based on 27 ratings

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  1. capricorn1Comment by capricorn1
    October 3, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    mr.napolitano is a perfect example of affirmitive action.
    he was put in a job that he is not qualified for.
    he is a he isnt he??

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    • powertothepeopleComment by powertothepeople
      October 3, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

      Yep…looks like a duck….sounds like a duck….quacks….has to be a duck!

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      Rating: 5.0/5 (11 votes cast)
    • minutemanComment by minuteman
      October 3, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

      To quote Arrowsmith: “Dude looks like a lady.”

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      Rating: 5.0/5 (7 votes cast)
  2. Richard FirthComment by Richard Firth
    October 3, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    Napolitano is a perfect example of a person with important connections who got “paid back” for them by being appointed to a job she neither understands, likes or has a passion for. Aside from her personal appearance, which is disgusting, she has not lived up to her oath nor has she earned her salary which fortunately I don’t know how much it is because I would probably puke my guts out right here if I heard how much it is. She is a piece of something, but I won’t say what “of” is. You can figure it out.

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    • powertothepeopleComment by powertothepeople
      October 3, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

      Agreed….she/he has been a complete failure on terrorism but has been a complete success at wasting billions, spying on us and covering the fake-in-chiefs backside on all the BS about illegal immigration. Another example of Obummer and his merry whack jobs any and everything they touch.

      This whack should be canned…but it will not happen until Romney fires the boob!

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  3. Rory W.Comment by Rory W.
    October 3, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

    Have the words Intelligence and Napolitano together is obserd! She is just another Obama the zero appointee that cannot even come near to knowing what to do. Like the rest of the Obama clones, she follows his strict marching orders and has Holder to pick and choose which laws he will follow. If Obumer gets elected again, our country will surely collapse and social rioting will begin! Homeland security is nothing but a joke. We are only secure because we have people here that have weapons in their homes. It deterred the japanese from attacking for just that very reason. Now we have to contend to the Muslims in Missouri and New York calling for selective freedom of speech. Send them back to the middle east with Obumer and his entire cabinet!

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  4. William R NicholsonComment by William R Nicholson
    October 3, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    Isn’t It Amazing That All Of The Statements Reflect Total Nonsensical Issues As To Intended Differences Between Centers of Information Yet No Where Is There Any Mention Of Any Statistically Measurable Difference Between Any Crime Stats , No Matter Whether They Be Local Or International In Scope ? ! Another Great Blunder In Not Having Any Real Idea Of How To Achieve An Objective ! The Citizens Hard Earned Dollars Flushed Down The Drain By Uncaring , Unresponsive And Totally Unqualified Drones ………….

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  5. goodguynyComment by goodguyny
    October 3, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    When all of this Homeland Security and Patriot Act started, every American knew we would all be put under a microscope. The biggest problem is that the terrorists that took out the World Trade Center did all of the planning OUTSIDE OF THE U.S.!
    The TSA is a farce. When have they caught anything remotely to be considered a terrorist threat? Geez, even a European made it into the US with a GRENADE! And what about the woman recently traveled by air only to realize she had a loaded handgun in her luggage. Then the new crime wave started by TSA “inspectors” stealing people’s personal possessions? This is ALL WASTED TAX PAYER MONEY and it needs to be reigned in. Everyone who works for the TSA and Homeland Security need to be put on our southern border. At least , maybe, they can do some good there.Let local law enforcement and the FBI keep doing what they have been doing….find the criminals.

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  6. mach37Comment by mach37
    October 3, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

    Useless expansion of a nearly useless program. TSA procedures up until 2011 had been enough to prevent terrorists from boarding domestic flights, yet the agency managed to increase probing of innocent travelers to ridiculous extents. There was no evidence that “enhanced” probing of the private parts of obviously innocent people was needed, or would increase security in any way. Al Qaeda and the Jihadists have succeeded in converting the American government into a cowering tyranny. The public has allowed itself to be terrorized into accepting the government’s overreaching reactions to 9/11.

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  7. bna42Comment by bna42
    October 3, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

    “It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone’s ability to control”.

    Why should anyone be surprised? This is SOP for government programs. Once the ball starts rolling, changes and additions push it completely out of control–the very essence of bureaucracy.

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  8. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    October 3, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

    Everything Napolitano has done was done badly.
    It is no surprise that this waste of money is also a failure.

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  9. thomasjeffersonComment by thomasjefferson
    October 3, 2012 @ 11:57 pm

    U.S.intelligence efforts have been used, for the most part, to gather information on obama’s enemies. Meaning anyone who does not support obama’s agenda.

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  10. RPComment by RP
    October 4, 2012 @ 5:57 am

    Only problem is the lady looks like a dude and chases women like one. Did she/he have a sex change?

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