Fusion Centers and the Maryland Spying Scandal

In July, a series on the organization and financing of the federal government's post-9/11 secret programs ran in the Washington Post. Investigative journalists Dana Priest and William Arkin called attention to the fact that nearly 2,000 private corporations administer and provide essential services to this "alternative geography." Like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, homeland security is a byproduct of business-government collaboration.


While two years in the making and accompanied by an elaborate website, the series overlooks the threats posed to constitutional rights by the new wave of secrecy. The authors do not mention the Maryland spying scandal that was briefly in the news in 2008-09, thanks, in part, to stories in the Washington Post. Besides sharing close geographical proximity to the subject matter, the Maryland events involved some of the institutions examined in the "Top Secret America" series. This neglect is remarkable since the Maryland spying scandal has been a window on the sea change in surveillance methods since 9/11, revealing how a broad range of people can fall under official suspicion.


A Brief History of Homeland Security


In February 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported allegations made by American Muslims that the FBI spied on mosques in California. Muslim organizations also claim that an infiltrator advocated the use of violence in conversations with worshippers. The surveillance tactics allegedly used in Orange County are a disturbing reminder of the Bureau's COINTELPRO agents and provocateurs hounding of political dissidents in the 1960s.


The past decade has seen COINTELPRO-like operations of a less covert nature. Operating in over 100 U.S. cities, Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are comprised of agents from the FBI and other federal domestic intelligence agencies who work with state and local police ostensibly to prevent acts of terrorism. (Colorado is a case in point.) Regional JTTFs have conducted surveillance operations against environmental activists and political protesters, the most recent incident of note being at the Democratic Party's National Convention in 2008.


Evocative of post-World War II "civil disturbance" planning, the Department of Defense similarly collects domestic intelligence in violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. Last summer, it came to light that a member of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency has spied on groups that protested the export of military equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan through ports in Washington State since at least 2007. In March, General Victor Renuart, who heads both Northern Command and NORAD, acknowledged that the Pentagon shares such information with local police.