"Anti-Terror" Centers' Mission Creep

[ Posted Thursday, November 29th, 2007 – 16:35 UTC ]

Eileen Sullivan of the Associated Press wrote a shocking story this week, to which little attention is being paid. That's a shame, because it details how the effort to fight "terrorism" in America is being morphed into something else entirely. Federal dollars which are supposed to go to anti-terrorism are being used by the states pretty much any way they feel. The Bush administration gave the money to the states with no guidelines as to how to spend it, so it's really not even the states' fault that they decided to use the money how they saw fit.

From Sullivan's article:

Local intelligence-sharing centers set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have had their anti-terrorism mission diluted by a focus on run-of-the-mill street crime and hazards such as hurricanes, a government report concludes.

Of the 43 "fusion centers" already established, only two focus exclusively on preventing terrorism, the Government Accountability Office found in a national survey obtained by The Associated Press. Center directors complain they were hampered by lack of guidance from Washington and were flooded by often redundant information from multiple computer systems.

. . .

The original idea was to coordinate resources, expertise and information of intelligence agencies so the country could detect and prevent terrorist acts. The concept has been widely embraced, particularly by the Sept. 11 commission, and the federal government has provided $130 million to help get them off the ground. But until recently, there were no guidelines for setting up the centers and as a result, the information shared and how it is used vary.

Centers in Kansas and Rhode Island are the only two focused solely on counterterrorism. Other centers concentrate on all crimes, including drugs and gangs, according to Congress' investigative and auditing arm. Washington state's center, for instance, has an all-hazards mission so it can focus on natural disasters and public health epidemics in addition to terrorism.


But not to worry! The Ministry of Truth conveniently explains how it all fits together:

Administration officials defended the centers and said encompassing all sorts of crimes in the intelligence dragnet is the best way to catch terrorists.

. . .

"States are at different levels because there wasn't the preconceived game-plan on how to do this," said George Foresman, a former undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department who oversaw the awarding of startup money for many of the centers.

. . .

"Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach," according to a Congressional Research Service report from June.

To Jack Tomarchio, a senior intelligence official at the Homeland Security Department, that is not a bad thing. "In many cases, there's also a nexus between criminality and terrorism," Tomarchio said. "Terrorists, like anybody else, need money to do their deeds." Often, he said, that means terrorists will be involved in narcotics trafficking and similar crimes.


Got that, everyone? Because terrorists, like anybody else, need money to do their deeds, the term "anti-terrorism" should now be read to include narcotics trafficking, "similar crimes" (whatever they may be) and pretty much anything else we decide it means.

[I really would like to keep the 1984 references down to one per month, and I realize I just wrote on the Ministry of Truth a few weeks ago, but sometimes the doublethink and newspeak emanating from Washington just overwhelms me by its very frequency.]

Perhaps this is a continuation of the propaganda we were fed at the onset of the wars -- complete with television commercials warning us that smoking a joint was somehow funding terrorists (Arianna Huffington countered with her own television ads that equated filling your SUV up with gas to funding the terrorists, to her credit). But you'll notice the more expansive language -- not just "terrorists could be dealing drugs, so we've got to keep an eye on drug dealing to fight terrorism," but also "terrorists need to make money to do their deeds, so we've got to keep an eye on every way there is to make money."

No word yet on an official rationale for using anti-terrorism centers for emergency preparedness. Perhaps, Lex Luthor is now in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden and they are about to perfect a way of setting off the San Andreas Fault and send California into the sea. Or something. It's hard to tell what could be considered "too outlandish for the government to say" these days.

Some may call this interpretation alarmist. So be it. I'd love to be proven wrong in this particular case. Some may argue that combating crime and drug dealing is a worthy goal for the federal government to have, so giving the states money for this purpose is in no way sinister. To them I say if we're going to have that debate, let's have that debate. Let's appropriate money for just such a cause and send it through Congress, the way it is supposed to be done, and not sneak it through the back door of "terrorism."

Some may say that because they're going after crooks making money, they will focus on the largest amounts of money and therefore go after CEOs and corrupt hedge fund managers because with all that money floating around, some of it could be supporting terrorism. To these folks I say "Be careful! Whatever you're smoking is awfully potent, and therefore they may already be onto you."


Using Occam's razor, I will venture to guess that what happened was that the federal government, in a paroxysm of fear after 9/11 decided to do what the feds usually do about an enormous problem: throw money at it in the hopes that it will somehow go away. They shoveled millions of our tax dollars at the states and told them to immediately set up "anti-terror" centers, without giving them any clue as to how to go about doing that. Some states obviously felt that their likelihood of being attacked by terrorists was fairly low, but that such money could be prudently used to prepare for disasters or to fight crime in general, so they slapped a "Anti-Terrorism" sign on the building and went about using the money the way they thought was most effective.

But still, because invoking the word "terrorism" these days puts law enforcement into a realm where even basic constitutional law doesn't seem to apply, we should be very concerned when the definition of "terrorism" is broadened. This is what libertarians have been arguing all along about all the "extraordinary" things now being done in our name to "fight terrorism."

There's a very slippery slope here, in other words. If the Department of Homeland Security (motto: "Most Orwellian department name ever!") decides that narcotics trafficking equals terrorism, then that's what it means. Because when "terrorism" apparently means whatever the government decides it means -- and a judge can't review this decision because of "national security" -- then this is the final word on the subject. And even if you agree that narcotics trafficking is as worthy a goal to fight as terrorism, what about those "similar crimes" or "all sorts of crimes" mentioned? And what about any illegal way of earning money? Where does it end?

The question needs to be asked flat-out to either President Bush or his press secretary by the mainstream media: Is fighting narcotics trafficking part of fighting terrorism? Why? What does that mean legally?

Not that I'm holding my breath to hear such a question in a news conference, you understand. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be asked. Because we all deserve to hear the answer.


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “"Anti-Terror" Centers' Mission Creep”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    The direction we are going in is leading us toward a time when the government will consider all peoples living within this counties borders as potential subspects and we will no right to privacy whatsoever.

    Where's the door, how do I get out of here!

    Eyeopening post

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    The Bush administration gave the money to the states with no guidelines as to how to spend it, so it's really not even the states' fault that they decided to use the money how they saw fit.

    Oh com'on, CW!!!

    The states knew what the money was supposed to be spent for...

    The states receiving the money are (allegedly) run by responsible adults who know what the money SHOULD be used for...

    That's akin to laying the blame on Bush because it's raining on someone's parade...

    Be that as it may, there IS such a thing as "narco terrrorism"... And surely the link between narcotics and funding of terrorism can be made in placing like Afghanistan.. Is it really such a stretch to believe that there is a link between narcotics and terrorism in the US of A??

    You know me.. I have a cop's mentality thru and thru... If it takes invoking "terrorism" to prevent the rampant expansion of drug trafficking or gangs expansion or whatever, is that really a bad thing??

    I am sure if you asked the law-abiding residents of inner-city slums if they are "terrorized" by gangs and druggies, you would get definite "HELL YES!!"

    Does ANYONE have a problem curtailing the illegal drugs trade, regardless of whether or not it's actual "terrorism"???


    "we will no right to privacy whatsoever."

    The right to privacy ends where the danger to innocent people's lives begins...

    Your statement reminds me of the huge Las Vegas New Year's situation. People whining and complaining that the US Government had access to their Vegas hotel records because they had a tip (that proved to be bogus) that Las Vegas was going to be the subject of a devastating terrorist attack.

    Let me ask you... Do you feel it's justified for the US Government to obtain hotel and motel records if they have reasonable suspicion that a terrorist attack is planned???


  3. [3] 
    fstanley wrote:

    Hi Michale,

    My answer to your question is that as long a judge has reviewed the evidence and determined that there is probable cause to issue a warrent then the government can request the information. It is when there is no judical review and the constitution and the laws of this country are ignored that I have a problem.


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:


    Fair enough...

    However, what about the instances of "hot pursuit"??

    Would you feel comfortable with the guidelines that operatives should vigourously pursue leads WHERE EVER it takes them, but be prepared to justify their actions to a judge after the fact??

    My beef with the "Las Vegas Incident" is that people are willing to accept police going thru alleged personal records AFTER a terrorist attack in order to determine who is guilty. Yet, these same people are indignant if the same police go thru the same records BEFORE the fact, in order to PREVENT loss of life on a massive scale.

    In short, their attitude is that, as long as hundreds or thousands have died, they don't mind that their alleged privacy is invaded. But god forbid that their precious privacy would be violated to PREVENT those hundreds or thousands dying...

    Speaking for me personally.. I don't feel that my privacy is worth anyone's life...

    But, maybe that's just me....


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