Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 9, 2009

Virginia fusion center added to ACLU target list

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on April 9, 2009

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.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 9, 2009 @ 8:31 am

This kind of issue will pop up over and over and primarily because the formation of DHS was premised on its being the leadership organization on domestic intelligence issues. The of course the intelligence community was restructured by statute. Now I would argue that it is impossible to determine which Executive Branch organization has the lead in sorting out the civil liberties and privacy issues raised by domestic intelligence policy and operations. If it is still DHS they have not established the skills and competencies needed to do that. Unfortunately, neither have DOJ/FBI or the DNI or DOD. The end result is that sooner or later this is going to be a huge problem and raise many issues and policy questions. Interesting that the legal journals have spent so little time on this subject. At least since the late 1980’s there has been at least one quality law school text book on “National Security” now in its 4th edition (Dycus and Raven-Hansen et al. I am an advocate for the formal addition of the AG to the NSC. The Senate pushed by former Senator Hollings (D. SC) came within one vote of doing so before Hollings retired. We are a nation under law so thanks to the ACLU for keeping us informed even when sometimes slightly off base. The Fusion Centers are due for more oversight by Congress but ask yourself what would the most effective Senate and House Committees be to do this? The Intel Committees? Judiciary? Homeland Security? Who knows but the Congressional leadership needs to figure it out NOW not later when their are gross violations and demonstrators in the streets!

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