Last evening blogger Amanda Simon added Virginia to the list of fusion centers receiving ACLU criticism. She writes, “The latest disturbing news is out of a Virginia fusion center. A document, posted online last week details potential concerns and threats throughout the Old Dominion State, specifically mentioning the multicultural population surrounding a military base. The assessment advocates for the monitoring of First Amendment-protected activities of various religious and educational facilities and characterizes the student population at specific Virginia colleges as traditionally black.”
Homeland Security Today is running a related story that defends the VFC. In the HStoday report this morning, “According to veteran intelligence and law enforcement officials familiar with the problems with the MIAC (Missouri fusion center) and other fusion centers’ reports and activities, their careful reading of the 215-page Virginia threat assessment found no grounds for the ACLU’s claims, adding that the public civil rights advocacy organization ‘twisted and distorted’ portions of what the report actually states.” HSToday provides a copy of the complete VFC report.
The “Law Enforcement Sensitive” VFC report was published by Cryptome on March 13, 2009. It was referenced by Raw Story on April 6. It was apparently the Raw Story piece that attracted the ACLUs attention. They generated a media release on Monday afternoon. Last night’s blog pushed the story to a broader audience.
According to the Virginia State Police website, the Virginia Fusion Center, “is staffed by one First Sergeant, five Special Agents, three analysts and one clerical position. Within the VFC is the Information Classification Unit (ICU) that will act as the information management mechanism for all incoming information to the VFC. The ICU will classify, prioritize, and determine initial dissemination of the information. The Virginia Counter-Terrorism Unit (VCTU) will review, correlate, analyze, disseminate, and file the information received from the ICU. In addition, the VCTU will prepare reports, provide in-depth analysis, and support directed intelligence operations related to terrorism in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in conjunction with the Department of Emergency Management.”
Editorial Note: On Tuesday and yesterday the VFC report began generating attention from mostly rightist and leftist libertarian websites. I saw some of the chatter (but did not recognize the ACLU connection) and decided it was alarmist. But these things can take on their own momentum. The attention this morning has reached the point where we will now probably see mainstream media attention today or tomorrow.
Personal Note: I am a pretty hardcore civil libertarian. Domestic intelligence operations must be held to very high standards for respecting privacy and civil liberties. Strategic intelligence products should be intellectually rigorous and based on credible evidence. These standards have not always been met. But in the case of the VFC threat assessment product, the ACLU critique has, in my judgment, jumped the shark. The information and analysis provided by the VFC report is most often measured, avoids unsupported claims, and — in identifying intelligence gaps — is even self-critiquing. There is a need for careful, professional intelligence-led policing and terrorism prevention activities. The ACLU – and all of us – should be ready to identify official abuse or potential abuse. In this case, it appears to me, the ACLU is confusing important constitutional concerns with trivial issues of politically correct rhetoric.