Spies Among Us
Despite a troubled history, police across the nation are keeping tabs on ordinary Americans
US NEWS: Since 9/11, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have poured over a half-billion dollars into building up local and state police intelligence operations. The funding has helped create more than 100 police intelligence units reaching into nearly every state.
To qualify for federal homeland security grants, states were told to assemble lists of "potential threat elements"--individuals or groups suspected of possible terrorist activity. In response, state authorities have come up with thousands of loosely defined targets, ranging from genuine terrorists to biker gangs and environmentalists. (...)
Many of the nation's new intelligence units are dubbed "fusion centers." Run by state or local law enforcement, these regional hubs pool information from multiple jurisdictions. From a mere handful before 9/11, fusion centers now exist in 31 states, with a dozen more to follow. Some focus exclusively on terrorism; others track all manner of criminal activity. Federal officials hope to eventually see 70 fusion centers nationwide, providing a coast-to-coast intelligence blanket.
The problem, skeptics say, is that no one is quite sure what the new rules are. "Hardly anyone knows what a fusion center should do," says Paul Wormeli of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, a Justice Department-backed training and technology center. (...) Most federal funding for the centers now comes from the Department of Homeland Security, but DHS also requires no intelligence standards from its grantees.
At the state level, regulations on police spying vary widely, but a general rule of thumb comes from the Justice Department's internal guidelines that forbid intelligence gathering on individuals unless there is a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity.
Suspicion of spying is so rife among antiwar activists, who have loudly protested White House policy on Iraq, that some begin meetings by welcoming undercover cops who might be present. (...) In at least one case, an apparent undercover officer incited a crowd by faking his arrest. In Fresno, Calif., activists learned in 2003 that their group, Peace Fresno, had been infiltrated by a local sheriff's deputy--piecing it together after the man died in a car crash and his obituary appeared in the paper.
The California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, a $7 million fusion center run by the state Department of Justice, also ran into trouble in 2003 when it warned of potential violence at an antiwar protest at the port of Oakland. Mike Van Winkle, then a spokesman for the center, explained his concern to the Oakland Tribune: "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest. You can almost argue that a protest against [the war] is a terrorist act." ...(more)
People should not be afraid of their governments.