Security program slammed by Senate report for improperly collecting info on innocent citizens
by Matt Apuzzo and Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON - A multibillion-dollar information-sharing program created in the aftermath of 9/11 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a Senate report concludes. It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone's ability to control.
What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analyzing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.
The lengthy, bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts. The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.
Disagreeing with the critical conclusions of the report, Homeland Security says it is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the program, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.
Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don't know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centers in every state. Government estimates range from less than $300 million to $1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 percent to 30 percent.
Despite that, Congress is unlikely to pull the plug. That's because, whether or not it stops terrorists, the program means politically important money for state and local governments.
A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee reviewed more than 600 unclassified reports over a one-year period and concluded that most had nothing to do with terrorism. The panel's chairman is Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
"The subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," the report said.
When fusion centers did address terrorism, they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties. The centers have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.
One fusion center cited in the Senate investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group's list of book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.
No evidence of criminal activity was contained in those reports. The government did not circulate them, but it kept them on government computers. The federal government is prohibited from storing information about First Amendment activities not related to crimes.
"It was not clear why, if DHS had determined that the reports were improper to disseminate, the reports were proper to store indefinitely," the report said.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Matthew Chandler called the report "out of date, inaccurate and misleading." He said that it focused entirely on information being produced by fusion centers and did not consider the benefit the involved officials got receiving intelligence from the federal government.
The report is as much an indictment of Congress as it is the Homeland Security Department. In setting up the department, lawmakers wanted their states to decide what to spend the money on. Time and again, that setup has meant the federal government has no way to know how its security money is being spent.
Inside Homeland Security, officials have long known there were problems with the reports coming out of fusion centers, the report shows.
"You would have some guys, the information you'd see from them, you'd scratch your head and say, `What planet are you from?"' an unidentified Homeland Security official told Congress.
Until this year, the federal reports officers received five days of training and were never tested or graded afterward, the report said.
States have had criminal analysis centers for years. But the story of fusion centers began in the frenzied aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The 9/11 Commission urged better collaboration among government agencies. As officials realized that a terrorism tip was as likely to come from a local police officer as the CIA, fusion centers became a hot topic.
But putting people together to share intelligence proved complicated. Special phone and computer lines had to be installed. The people reading the reports needed background checks. Some information could only be read in secure areas, which meant construction projects.
All of that cost money.
Meanwhile, federal intelligence agencies were under orders from Congress to hire more analysts. That meant state and local agencies had to compete for smart counterterrorism thinkers. And federal training for local analysts wasn't an early priority.
Though fusion centers receive money from the federal government, they are operated independently. Counterterrorism money started flowing to states in 2003. But it wasn't until late 2007 that the Bush administration told states how to run the centers.
State officials soon realized there simply wasn't that much local terrorism-related intelligence. Terrorist attacks didn't happen often, but police faced drugs, guns and violent crime every day. Normal criminal information started moving through fusion centers.
Under federal law, that was fine. When lawmakers enacted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in 2007, they allowed fusion centers to study "criminal or terrorist activity." The law was co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the driving forces behind the creation of Homeland Security.
Five years later, Senate investigators found, terrorism is often a secondary focus.
"Many fusion centers lacked either the capability or stated objective of contributing meaningfully to the federal counterterrorism mission," the Senate report said. "Many centers didn't consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work."
When Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary in 2009, the former Arizona governor embraced the idea that fusion centers should look beyond terrorism. Testifying before Congress that year, she distinguished fusion centers from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces that are the leading investigative and analytical arms of the domestic counterterrorism effort.
"A JTTF is really focused on terrorism and terrorism-related investigations," she said. "Fusion centers are almost everything else."
Congress, including the committee that authored the report, supports that notion. And though the report recommends the Senate reconsider the amount of money it spends on fusion centers, that seems unlikely.
"Congress and two administrations have urged DHS to continue or even expand its support of fusion centers, without providing sufficient oversight to ensure the intelligence from fusion centers is commensurate with the level of federal investment," the report said.
And following the release of the report, Homeland Security officials indicated their continued strong support for the program.
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Cops and bars collaborate to reduce crime in Md.
Troubled area had seen spike in homicides
by Sara Blumberg --
BOOMTOWN, Md. — It's a little before midnight Friday when county police Officer Aaron Green and Lt. Steve Thomas drive into Boomtown, blue-and-red emergency lights blazing, parking their vehicles in the median of Route 175.
"Time to check in," Green says as he gets out of the car and walks across the road into the My Place Bar & Lounge.
The bar sits among a tiny collection of old buildings that make up an area with a long, troubled history. The strip is dimly lit, but booming with people standing in the parking lots of My Place and another popular club, New Star Inn. A neighboring liquor store and a KFC have closed up for the evening; a little ways down the street, a 24-hour barber shop is busy.
At just over 6-feet-tall, bouncer Malikai Thomas sits outside the bar, dressed in jeans and a gray muscle shirt and sporting a no-nonsense expression as he checks IDs. In an instant his face changes as he sees Thomas and Green walk up to greet him.
"I thought you weren't coming tonight," he says as he gets off his chair and smiles. The guys hug and share a handshake.
Manager William Major is happy too, inviting Green and Thomas in to hang out.
For many, Boomtown is regarded as a dangerous place. Shootings between 2006 to 2010 that killed three people were the worst of the trouble, but the reputation has roots well before that.
In the last two years, police and others say an increase of foot patrols mixed with weekly check-ins have helped clean up this part of the Route 175 corridor, located directly across from burgeoning Fort George G. Meade.
Inside My Place, the officers relax as they talk business with Major. Many of those in the African-American crowd, women dressed in high heels and the men in neatly pressed jeans, ignore the presence of the officers, who stand out as whites in blue uniforms.
"After a while, they just blend in," Major said.
For Major, this type of interaction between law enforcement and Boomtown is new. As a manager, he has worked in the area for nearly a decade and witnessed a lot of violence.
He was at My Place in 2010 when a Prince George's County man shot three people after getting into an altercation. One man died. Two years earlier, Major managed the Traffic Bar & Lounge when four people were shot in the parking lot. Two were killed and one other person was critically injured. The bar was shut down shortly after.
Another murder occurred in 2006, when a former federal police officer was shot to death in a botched robbery outside My Place.
"The trust wasn't there, but now that has changed. We're working together to make this place safe and viable," Major said.
Thomas said that there was a time officer wouldn't go into My Place or New Star Inn, for fear of retaliation.
"When you came here, you knew to bring backup," he said, "That isn't the case anymore."
Of the handful of bars and lounges in Boomtown, My Place has been one of the major hot spots.
Green has been working in the police Western District for three years. He said it took a lot of effort to get business owners to trust him.
"It takes a certain type of cop to work in this district. You have to build relationships and you have to respect others before change can happen," he said.
After the last shooting at My Place in 2010, community leaders urged the county to take away the bar's liquor license. Instead, the liquor board imposed a $250 fine and a warning for owners Kay Jung and Sun Wilson of Severn to clean up the place.
Thomas said that since that shooting, the trouble has stopped.
"I can't remember the last time we made an arrest there," he said.
He added the biggest complaint he hears now are about cars towed from parking lots of neighboring businesses and the occasional disorderly drunk.
Councilman Jamie Benoit, D-Crownsville, is happy with the decline of crime in the Boomtown area, which is part of his district. But he said longterm change for the corridor is uncertain.
The surrounding area is experiencing rapid growth. Thousands of new jobs have moved to Fort Meade and the surrounding office parks in the last five years. The National Security Agency is expanding, and construction of more office space around the post continues.
Development of new homes, shops and business spaces is under way to the south in the Odenton Town Center. To the north in Hanover, the state's largest casino has opened next to Arundel Mills mall. Several new housing developments have been completed between Boomtown and the mall in the past several years.
Over the years, community leaders and county officials have tried to clean up Boomtown. In 2008, County Executive John Leopold accompanied county code inspectors on a surprise sweep of the area. In 2006, the county adopted a series of tax credits to help the businesses spruce up the area.
So far the opening of the KFC and the widening of Route 175 through the area is the only concrete physical changes on the strip since the shootings.
"We won't really know how the area will emerge until things like the widening of 175 and the changes at Fort Meade are finished," he said.
New Star Inn
After saying their goodbyes at My Place, Green and Thomas head over to the New Star Inn, just 20 feet away.
As they enter, an older crowd is dancing to house music by the DJ duo Stan Greenley and Mike "Smitty" Smith.
"Come on, let me hear you shake it," Smith says while mingling with patrons on the dance floor.
He's a little disappointed since the dance floor isn't packed with more people. Fridays are one of the busiest nights for the business.
Green and Thomas are once again greeted with hugs. They are even invited to "let loose" on the dance floor.
New Star, like My Place, attracts a mostly African-American crowd. Customers come from Fort Meade, Columbia and west county, Smith said.
Again both officers smile and decline as they chat with patrons at the bar. At 1 a.m., the regulars say there have been no problems so far.
Charles Henderson of Columbia says he's been coming to Boomtown for years. He enjoys the New Star Inn for the atmosphere.
"Here's the secret, you go to My Place for the young crowd, but you come to New Star for the older crowd. It's two different ways of thinking," he said.
He added that since the police started checking in regularly, the bar has changed, with more mature clientele frequenting the area.
Myong Graham, who has owned the bar since 1984, said that when something bad happens, she knows to call Green and Thomas.
"We know things will get taken care of," she said, serving drinks with her two sisters.
Boomtown has never been on the off-limits list for service personnel stationed at Fort Meade. Base residents are not allowed to enter some nearby neighborhoods, including Meade Village and Arwell Court in Severn, because of crime, a post spokesman said.
As more people enter the bar, Green and Thomas are called to Meade Village for a possible fight. They return just after 2:30 p.m. to make sure customers are clearing out and heading home.
While standing in the parking lot, they notice a woman stranded — her car was just towed away.
"I see it every week," Thomas said.
Green and Thomas believe they are off to a good start.
"Community policing makes a real difference, we are really seeing results," Thomas said.
Firefighting cops: How police can SWARM
During the past two years, the Joint Counterterrorism Awareness Workshop Series (JCTAWS) Project has been conducting tabletop exercises in selected urban areas
by Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
SAN DIEGO — Dr. Reed Smith is a guy you'd want to have on your team in a fight. He'd be on my team, that's for sure.
To say this guy is impressive may be the biggest understatement made during the entire IACP 2012 conference so far. I have to break it to you, though, he's not a cop (gasp!). Worse, he's with the fire service (double gasp!).
Dr. Smith was among the panelists on a Sunday afternoon session, which was made up of individuals from FEMA, DHS, FBI, NCTC, and several local police and fire agencies, who convened to discuss the lessons learned from a series of regional workshops held in the past two years.
Each tabletop exercise — conducted in cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, Sacramento, Indianapolis, Honolulu, and Houston — was designed to improve the ability of local jurisdictions to prepare for, protect against, and respond to complex, coordinated terrorists attacks specific to that particular city.
The program is called the Joint Counterterrorism Awareness Workshop Series (JCTAWS), and it has yielded some pretty interesting results.
Dr. Smith's Prescription for Training
The 90-minute session contained entirely too much information to disseminate in a single column, so for now, I want to focus in on the comments of just one of the panelists — Dr. Smith.
Smith is a board-certified emergency room physician, currently practicing at one of the local hospitals in Northern Virginia. He's a full-time employee for the Arlington County Fire Department, serving as their Operational Medical Director. In that role, he's also a consultant to the Arlington County Police Department and is a medical responder for Arlington County SWAT.
As we all know, fire, EMS and police routinely converge on the same scene — whether that's a traffic collision or some other “regular” call — but we also all know that there are gaps in training for all disciplines to work together in a coordinated fashion during a major terrorist attack.
Listening to Smith, you get the impression he thinks about those gaps rather a lot.
What police, fire, and EMS personnel all need to have in order to be prepared for a coordinated attack, Smith says, is at once simple and not.
“What we have to do is change our response paradigm. We have to adapt conventional roles — the conventional police, fire, and EMS roles — to this new threat," he said.
"We have to accept new roles in response. It's not ‘I do my part, you do your part.' It's an understanding of all the operational roles and how and where they overlap, and when they transition.”
The First Responder SWARM
During the session, Dr. Smith dropped on the audience perhaps the very best tactical acronym I've ever heard — SWARM.
That stands for Syndicated, Water-Enabled, Anti-Siege Response Matrix Teams and it's attributed to Theodore Moody, apparently from his Naval Postgraduate School thesis (although it could also be from Sean Newman, in another Naval Postgraduate School document).
Here's SWARM in a nutshell: We must prepare our response to the fact that fire has been and will forever be used as a weapon.
That's just a fact, and we're way behind the curve in planning for it (sadly, another fact).
In the event that a coordinated attack involves fire as a weapon — and, again, there's a damned-high likelihood that a sophisticated attack will involve fire as a weapon — it will mean pre-event planning and pre-event training for fire and police alike.
It will mean that fire and police personnel will have to work together to use armored vehicles to deploy fire hoses and fireground equipment downrange to the area in which the battle is still very much under way.
It will mean that cops be able to operate in tactical environments which are ablaze. It will put firefighters in a fire fight (the kind with bullets flying).
It will mean giving police officers basic knowledge in simple fire behavior — fire doesn't shoot back but it does have behavior.
“We have to blur the lines,” Smith said. “You hand a firefighter a ballistic vest, he'll drop it on the ground and say ‘I'm not a police officer.' Same thing will happen if you hand a police officer a turnout coat."
So, how do we actually blur those lines?
“What about having police officers or contact teams carry hand-deployed smoke-extinguishing grenades? They're made. They're about the size of a hubcap, they weigh about five pounds.
"You can knock down a fire in a pretty-large-size room. You can Molle them on the back of your gear. Why don't we teach those guys going into the fight to — as they go by those areas — to start to knock that fire back for life rescue? At that point we don't care about property damage, we care about life rescue.”
Smith concedes that there is risk involved in this concept. Police departments doing first-responder medical care are opening themselves up to certain risk. Fire departments putting firefighters into places where a gunman — or many gunmen — have not yet been neutralized are an equally absorbing risk.
But the threat we may face may require precisely that type of risk-taking, and as Smith — and others — have said, game day is not the time to be figuring this stuff out.
Responding to the 'Normal Calls'
In addition, Smith outlined coordinated responses during day-to-day “normal” calls.
Let me give you an example. In an incident not far from Smith's home AOR, Smith had trained a PD with officer-down care, and equipped those officers with a simple blow-out kit, including a tourniquet.
One night, there was a call of a fight in progress, and when officers arrived, they discovered it was actually a multi-casualty incident with numerous stabbing victims, one of whom could have been mortally wounded with a cut at the brachial artery.
“Unfortunately, in this area, there's about a four- to five-minute response time. In those four to five minutes, the responding officers who were trained did the right thing. They quickly triaged and initiated care on the sickest of the patients — the one with that brachial artery injury.”
Good story so far, right? Here's the best part.
“When the fire department showed up, they didn't just push those police officers away, saying, ‘It's our job now.' What they did was they supported those police officers, transitioned the patient for transport, and took over the care in a seamless way.”
That is the result of training prior to action. That is breaking down traditional barriers. That is a truly-coordinated response.
Point-of-Wounding Care, and TECC
“Napoleon's surgeon in the 1700s said that the fate of the wounded lies in the hands of the first person to render care,” Smith remarked. “That kind of still holds true.”
Smith saliently observed that as a nation we are sitting on more than a decade of data related to Tactical Combat Casualty Care — life-saving tactics that have been employed by our military brothers and sisters in the Long War overseas.
“This is data,” Smith said, “that in my opinion was earned by the blood of American soldiers. We shouldn't let this data go to waste. We have data that shows the success of point-of-wounding care by non-medically-trained responders.”
Smith was quick, though, to add that Tactical Combat Casualty Care as we know it in the armed forces is probably not an exact fit for police on the street.
“The problem with Tactical Combat Casualty Care is that it's written for a healthy, 18- to 25-year-old soldier, in downtown Kabul. It's not written for a 65-year-old with high blood pressure, is on blood thinners, and is in downtown Houston.”
A couple of years ago, Smith was part of the effort to begin rolling out a civilian-appropriate version of TCCC called TECC — Tactical EMERGENCY Casualty Care.
“It's T-triple-C-based guidelines that are appropriate for civilians that accounts for populations that T-triple-C doesn't account for — pregnant women, kids, elderly, chronically ill, special populations. To me, that's the simple answer to the question. To me, we need to train first responders in TECC and give them the right equipment to do it.”
This cannot be training limited to your tactical medics. The scale of attack about which we're talking is too big for the five or six tactical medics you might have at your PD (if you have even that many!).
The aim of point-of-wounding care is to get the training and equipment into the hands of the first responder on the scene. In this type of situation, that's almost certainly going to be a patrol officer.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. In addition to his editorial and managerial responsibilities, Doug has authored more than 500 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association. He is also a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, and is a two-time (2011 and 2012) Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" Finalist in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
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