Ostensibly created to help better coordinate the exchange of information between various federal agencies, the federal government’s fusion centers have come under increased scrutiny following last month’s BlueLeaks hack. Now, a new report claims that these centers are being used by the government to spy on regular citizens.
Data gathered from various Maine and Texas newspapers collated by Blacklisted News paint a disturbing picture of what is really happening in these fusion centers; showing that these are involved in warrantless surveillance of American citizens.
On June 19, hackers from an online group that dubbed itself as a “transparency collective” leaked 269 gigabytes worth of data that they claimed to have taken from law enforcement agencies and fusion centers. According to the group, the files contained more than 10 years’ worth of files belonging to more than 200 police departments and fusion centers from across the United States. (Related: The coronavirus outbreak is sparking the rollout of more digital surveillance.)
Following the leaks, a number of newspapers all over the country started pouring through the data, looking to see what was actually going on inside the fusion centers.
The first of these to run a story was the Maine Press Herald, which ran an article on what it found in mid-July. The article goes over how police departments in the state often contact the Maine fusion center with requests to track down people based on social media or video footage.
“Police agencies commonly contact the Maine center with requests for help identifying a person depicted in a photo, sometimes captured from a surveillance camera. Other pictures are taken directly by law enforcement, or appear to be pulled from Facebook or other social media sites,” the article states.
In addition, a prior article by the same newspaper – one that predates BlueLeaks at that – details how fusion centers refuse to acknowledge that they’re scanning people’s faces and spying on them.
“Despite evidence that the Maine State Police has worked for years with federal agencies to develop its use of digital surveillance technology, the agency now uses that law to refuse to answer any questions about such efforts, or even acknowledge that they exist.”
A third article from the paper revealed that fusion centers are also secretly putting together a massive database of license plate numbers, names and addresses of legal gun owners, and other data.
As eyebrow-raising as the reports from the Maine Press Herald sound, what the Austin Chronicle has uncovered might be even more alarming.
In an article, the Austin Chronicle revealed that fusion centers have been using a network of secret informants to create a national “Suspicious Activity” network.
“In early June, an intelligence center operated by the Austin Police Department was hacked, along with many others like it across the country,” write the report. “Known as BlueLeaks, the collection of leaked documents from the hack contains over 10 gigs of material taken from the Austin center. They reveal a secret citizen spying program that’s active in the Austin area and across the country.”
According to the article, fusion centers have created a vast, secret network of “Threat Liason Officers” (TLO). Documents obtained by the Austin Chronicle talk about how each TLO must sign a nondisclosure agreement with the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC). This includes TLOs who aren’t not working in law enforcement.
The documents state that a TLO’s job is to report people doing mundane things like taking pictures, asking questions or simply just being observant of one’s surroundings. In addition, TLOs are also reporting people for “suspicious” social media posts.
The article goes on to state how these TLOs can include garbage collectors, teachers, ministers, priests, rabbis or even counselors. Government employees in education, public works and other sectors also contribute to ARIC as TLOs.
When it was first established after the September 11 attacks, the National Network of Fusion Centers was meant to help government agencies better collaborate and share resources to fight terrorist threats from abroad.
These new reports as well as the BlueLeaks hack that they stem from, however, seem to indicate that the fusion center system is increasingly being used by authorities to monitor America’s own citizens. This has disturbing implications for Americans.
As the Austin Chronicle warned, “worrisome examples of suspicious activity have led to increased scrutiny.” What’s more worrisome and suspicious than the same institutions meant to protect innocent Americans actually spying on them? Shouldn’t these fusion centers then be subject to increased scrutiny as well?
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