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  • Feel More Secure Now?

    William Fisher

    By William Fisher.

    When most of Congress, still frightened and reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 – but desperate to be seen to be doing something – created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) back in 2002, there were those who said it couldn't – and shouldn't– be done. Merging 200,000 personnel from 22 widely disparate agencies, cultures and accounting systems, plus a smorgasbord of bureaus, offices and services, into a single agency would be a management nightmare.

    The mission of the DHS was and is to protect the country from threats emanating or to be executed from within. Its stated goal is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism. To fulfill that mandate, DSH bundled together enough people and agencies to become the third largest Cabinet department – behind only Defense and Veterans Affairs. Now it has been reliably reported that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will remain in the Obama cabinet during his second term and play a major role in the president's efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

    The variety of DHS's merged agencies is breathtaking, as demonstrated in a groundbreaking report prepared by CREW – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a not-for- profit organization supported by private contributions. CREW reports on The Immigration and Naturalization Service, now divided into two separate and new agencies: ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and Citizenship and Immigration Services. ICE operates its own nationwide network of detention centers – prisons – to hold the millions set to be deported or have a hearing before an Immigration Judge.

    Then there are other siblings that seem to have little to do with one another: FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and the TSA – and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), those curious folks who make you take your shoes off and examine your "junk."

    Then there is a small army of intelligence analysts who are meant to work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Terrorist Screening Center, where intelligence community analysts are meant to collaborate under the aegis of the FBI.

    Duplicative FBI services are presumably why DHS closed down its unit dedicated to following home-grown terror groups and individuals, left one analyst out of six, and fired the senior consultant with years of experience in the domestic terror field. One of DHS's more controversial programs is known as Fusion Centers, designed to utilize state and local law enforcement agencies to share terror-related information up to the national level. We have learned that a number of Fusion Centers don't actually exist. We know that a large number of law enforcement officers have refused to participate in an older "sister" DHS program known as 287(g). This program allows state and local law enforcement entities to enter into partnerships with ICE, in which local police and sheriffs are mandated to interpret and enforce Federal immigration law.

    A similar program, known as Secure Neighborhoods, is designed to hasten deportation of criminally dangerous would- be immigrants. This program has received a negative reception because it was discovered that many of the "criminally dangerous" included deportees arrested for such serious offenses as broken taillights and unpaid parking tickets.

    Many police and sheriff's departments have declined to participate in these programs because, they say, they divert scarce resources from day-to-day law enforcement, and require extensive training in

    complex immigration law. DHS estimates it has spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds to support state and local fusion centers since 2003. According to the Washington Post, "DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010."

    According to Peter Andreas, a border theorist, the creation of DHS constituted the most significant government reorganization since the Cold War, and the most substantial reorganization of federal agencies since the National Security Act of 1947, which placed the different military departments under a secretary of defense and created the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency.

    The DHS has endured a painful history of heavy-handed program implementation. We are all too familiar with the performance of FEMA during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many of us know that in the wake of the January 2011 shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded others, including then Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona fusion center issued a report filled with inaccurate information about the gunman's alleged connections to an anti-Semitic and antigovernment group.

    And we know that DHS's immigration detention centers – some belonging to private, for-profit corporations – have become the nation's poster children for disease, death, family break-up, and mistaken deportation – America's Gulag. The agency brought in one of the field's heavy hitters – John T. Morton – to clean up the mess, but after several years of high-pitched public nagging by immigration professionals, few of their suggested reforms have been put in place.

    Finally, Congress issued a blistering report following a two-year bipartisan investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The report has triggered charges from two of the subcommittee's most powerful members, who found that Department of Homeland Security efforts to engage state and local intelligence "fusion centers" had not yielded significant useful information to support federal counter-terrorism intelligence efforts.

    "It's troubling that the very 'fusion' centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans' civil liberties," said Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the Subcommittee's ranking member who initiated the investigation.

    He added: "Unfortunately, DHS has resisted oversight of these centers. The Department opted not to inform Congress or the public of serious problems plaguing its fusion center and broader intelligence efforts. When this Subcommittee requested documents that would help it identify these issues, the Department initially resisted turning them over, arguing that they were protected by privilege, too sensitive to share, were protected by confidentiality agreements, or did not exist at all. The American people deserve better."

    A review of the expenditures of five fusion centers found that federal funds were used to purchase dozens of flat screen TVs, two sport utility vehicles, cell phone tracking devices and other surveillance equipment unrelated to the analytical mission of an intelligence center. Their mission is not to do active or covert collection of intelligence.

    Coburn pulled no punches. "Homeland Security is probably the most ineffective agency in the government besides Social Security…[The fusion centers] "are not accomplishing anything in terms of counter-terrorism," he said.

    Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Subcommittee chairman from Michigan, was somewhat more deferential to his fellow Democrat, remarking that "Fusion centers may provide valuable services in fields other than terrorism, such as contributions to traditional criminal investigations, public safety, or disaster response and recovery efforts."

    He said, "This investigation focused on the federal return from investing in state and local fusion centers, using the counter- terrorism objectives established by law and DHS. The report recommends that Congress clarify the purpose of fusion centers and link their funding to their performance."

    The Subcommittee's report revealed: --

    • That senior DHS officials were aware of the problems hampering effective counterterrorism work with the fusion centers, but did not always inform Congress of the issues, nor ensure the problems were fixed in a timely manner.
    • That DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced intelligence of "uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."
    • That DHS officials did not provide evidence to the Subcommittee showing unique contributions that state and local fusion centers made to assist federal counter terrorism intelligence efforts that resulted in the disruption or prevention of a terrorism plot.
    • That DHS did not effectively monitor how federal funds provided to state and local fusion centers were used to strengthen federal counterterrorism efforts. In addition, fusion centers making questionable expenditures lacked basic, "must-have" intelligence capabilities, according to DHS assessments
    • That DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced intelligence of "uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."
    • DHS officials did not provide evidence to the Subcommittee showing unique contributions that state and local fusion centers made to assist federal counter terrorism intelligence efforts that resulted in the disruption or prevention of a terrorism plot.
    • The investigation also found that DHS did not effectively monitor how federal funds provided to state and local fusion centers were used to strengthen federal counterterrorism efforts. expenditures lacked basic, "must-have" intelligence capabilities, according to DHS assessments. It is often reported that DHS's Secretary, Janet Napolitano, was a tough but fair head of a border state with a large and growing Latino population.

    But managing Arizona would have been a walk in the park compared with managing DHS.

    Arizona is manageable. DHS is not.


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