Thursday, March 12, 2009

$260 Million for Fusion Center Analysts

Obama wants to hire thousands of intelligence analysts for state fusion centers to the tune of $260 million.  Liberty Beat thinks there are better ways to fight terrorism than sifting through commercial databases, "suspicious activity" reports, insurance claims, and court records, which is what these analysts will do in fusion centers.  

The core philosophy of fusion centers is that our protectors can find potential terrorists in our midst by examining all crimes and fusing that information with loads of other data about all of us.  This proposition is dubious.  For example, a 2004 Department of Justice study on fusion centers concluded:

A majority of states and experts believe that a nexus does exist among types of criminal activity, including illegal drug operations, money laundering, fraud, identity theft and terrorism.  It is well known that some of the September 11 terrorists were cited for traffic violations before the attacks while others obtained and used fraudulent driver’s licensees.  Many experts believe there is a good chance of identifying terrorists through their involvement in such lower-level criminal activity, as was possible with the September 11 terrorists. 

Proponents of this model argue that states should embrace an “all crimes” approach to terrorism prevention. 

Making these linkages among petty and larger crimes appears to be extremely difficult.  First, there is a shortage of research about the "precursor crimes"-terrorism nexus.  We need more evidence than anecdotes about 9/11 terrorists to know whether certain types of crimes are more or less likely to be used to support terrorism-related activities.  Otherwise, law enforcement analysts and investigators have to scan very broadly for linkages, wasting precious time and resources.  More concrete evidence would help law enforcement home in on those crimes that have the greatest chance for supporting terrorist-related activities.

In the rush to find the proverbial needle, the government is on track to take down the whole haystack.

"It has crooked past this crooked street
 Where cars patrol this crooked beat
 Badges flash and sirens wail
 They'll be taking one and all to jail"

                      - The Clash, The Crooked Beat