Friday, October 19, 2012

SPYING FUSION CENTERS PROTECT AMERICANS

On October 24, 2001, 98 Senators voted for and passed the Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, known as the Patriot Act. Currently, there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across America. 

In addition, 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances, and 33 building complexes the size of three Pentagons conduct top-secret work in and around the D.C. Beltway. Lockheed Martin landed a huge contract to develop the FBI's billion-dollar Next-Generation Identification (NGI) system, which includes 3-D facial recognition modeling enabling experts to construct a subject's entire face from partial video footage. The Dept. of Homeland Security and the entire Intelligence Community (IC) will gain access to the NGI database.

We now have Fusion Centers set up in all 50 states. These FCs have access to 240 state, regional, and federal agencies and their databases. FC's also monitor CCTV surveillance systems at intersections, thoroughfares, and parking lots across America. In Chicago, hi-tech infrared surveillance cameras that save and store video feeds for more than a dozen years are set up every mile along the Windy City's freeway system. One FC can access hundreds of private security cameras in railroad yards, trucking sites, sports arenas, office buildings, shopping malls, large retail stores, and warehouses.

Some feel this increased security to protect us from terrorism is not needed and that Fusion Centers are akin to Big Brother encroaching on our personal privacy. I feel these security measures must be taken with proper oversight and monitoring and that Americans should feel safer. The 60-year old ban preventing the CIA from conducting domestic surveillance has ended with the establishment of Fusion Centers. 

Eight years ago, retired CIA spymaster Charles “Charlie” Allen, then in his octogenarian years, reappeared as Chief Intelligence Officer within the Department of Homeland Security and deployed intelligence officers to newly-created Fusion Centers (FC’s) throughout the U.S..

Allen, who spent 47 years collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence at the CIA, used FC’s to strengthen America’s homeland security by meticulously sculpting our gravely inadequate homeland intelligence gathering and sharing capacity into a well thought-out operation. FC’s enable authorities at the state, county and city level to detect and respond to terrorist schemes by leveraging national intelligence with teams of clandestine federal intelligence officers embedded locally, possibly in your neighborhood.

Yes, one or more is currently operating in your state. As a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), I listened to Allen say that by the end of 2008, FC’s will be positioned in all 50 states (Statement made 2006, AFIO seminar, Tyson Corners, Va.). There will be a two-way, robust sharing of information, although highly-classified foreign and domestic intelligence will be sanitized through a Homeland Security Data Network (HSDN) before it’s shared with the state/local powers that be.”

In 2006, America spent $337 million for this trans-cybernet system and as Chief Intelligence Officer, Allen began positioning his officers in each FC, thus enabling America’s intelligence community to share terrorist information with over 600 state and local agencies.

Here's a possible scenario on how FC's could protect Americans from harm: The National Security Agency (NSA) receives intelligence from a spy satellite that picked up a cell phone call made from someone in Los Angeles to a suspected al Qaeda cell in Yemen. The intercept mentions Dodger Stadium. On the ground in Yemen, imagine a CIA Case Officer (CO) had previously recruited one of the suspected cell member’s cousins to spy for the U.S. Suppose that this recruited spy (“asset”) uncovered in his cousin’s home a map of Dodger Stadium and surrounding streets marked off with words in Farsi, and turned it over to his CIA handler.

In this highly-plausible scenario, through the HSDN secure network, Allen’s locally-embedded, federal intelligence officers inside L.A. would instantly tap into their underground workstation supercomputers, penetrate the secured IC terminals and pull together the staggering intelligence-gathering capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community, then share it with Los Angeles and state authorities- in real time, sanitized, of course. The HSDN system would transform the cloak-and-dagger, top secret particulars of this scenario into an unclassified product that would conceal the sources and methods used to acquire the overseas intelligence, before sharing the information with state and local authorities on the essence of the looming threat.

I believe America needs these locally-embedded FC’s because the lines between foreign and domestic intelligence have become blurred. Overseas threats that target our local communities are real in this new war on terrorism. The new terrorist cells are transnational and religiously driven; no longer are they merely disgruntled natives with local political ambitions.

Indeed, al Qaeda yearns for loss of American lives on a massive scale. The “old” terrorists’ weapons of choice, like small arms, plastique explosives, and rocket-propelled grenades, appear trite when our intelligence community has verified that al Qaeda has set its sights on acquiring and detonating nuclear, radiological, chemical and/or biological weapons inside America.


Decades ago, Charles “Charlie” Allen learned the dire consequence of not rapidly sharing intelligence. In September 1984 a truck loaded with the equivalent of 200 kilograms of TNT smashed into the US embassy in West Beirut. Previously, CIA satellite imagery analysts collected suspicious satellite photos taken over Bekaa Valley of the Sheikh Abdullah barracks, showing oil drums mimicking the layout of streets and concrete barriers in front of the US embassy annex, along with tire tracks in the sand made from practice runs for suicide bombers preparing for actual attack. Back then, Allen shared this top-secret satellite data with a marine in charge of the Beirut operation.

As we all know, the marine barracks were bombed and Allen wondered if the intelligence ever made it up the chain of command and if the bombing could have been prevented. The marine he passed on the intelligence to was named Oliver North.

Allen’s Fusion Centers, occupied by his intelligence officers and HSDN network, calls upon the US Intelligence Community’s global intelligence-gathering capability to support local communities. Yes, Fusion Centers are currently operating close by us all. I believe we should be glad they’re close at hand...in every state.

Robert Morton is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers and writes the spy thriller series "Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean, Florida Keys and Key West."

No comments: