The sharing of intelligence among American law enforcement agencies in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is being conducted in a manner that resembles “organized chaos,” according to a new study published this week.
New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice published their findings on Tuesday by way of an 86-page report that contains their analysis of an investigation into dozens of local and federal law enforcement agencies across the United States, and how those offices disseminate on a large scale locally-collected activity reports that are regularly carelessly put together, then put into the hands of others.
In multiple instances, the report’s authors claim, police departments around the country initiated intelligence gathering program after 9/11 that more than a decade later lack sufficient oversight or organization. The result, the center says, is a “sprawling, federally subsidized and loosely coordinated system to share information that is collected according to varying standards with little rigor and oversight.”
In an executive summary that accompanies the report, Michael Price — the Brennan Center’s chief counsel at their Liberty and National Security program — says experts there conducted surveys geared to 16 major police departments, 19 federally-assisted fusion centers and 14 Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs, to make sense of how suspicious activity reports and other intelligence is shared among local, regional and federal offices.
“What we found was organized chaos,” Price wrote.
The summary continues to say that Brennan Center experts determined there to be three major reasons that intelligence sharing should be considered flaw, and at the top of their list is allegations that agencies rely on “inconsistent rules and procedures that encourage gathering useless or inaccurate information,” the likes of which “wastes resources and also risks masking crucial intelligence.”
“As an increasing number of agencies collect and share personal data on federal networks, inaccurate or useless information travels more widely,” Price continued, adding that, despite this, “[i]Independent oversight of fusion centers is virtually non-existent, compounding these risks.”
The third factor, according to the center, is that what oversight that does exist with regards to intelligence sharing “has not kept pace,” in turn increasing the likelihood that these operations violate the civil liberties of American erroneously spied on.
In the center’s full report, the group details further the lack of oversight involved in the sharing of locally-collected but often national-distributed intelligence: information which authorities believe have the potential to be tied to domestic or international terrorism, but routinely consists of just reports of suspicious behavior spotted by untrained officials.
“The need to adapt to new threats with speed and agility has fueled the transformation of state and local law enforcement since 9/11,” the report reads in part. “But in the race to improve intelligence sharing across all levels of government, oversight and accountability have not kept pace. The entire homeland security enterprise runs on disparate and ambiguous rules about what intelligence information can or should be collected, maintained and shared. The result has been a great deal of confusion, serious infringements on civil rights and civil liberties and a pile of useless information.”
Indeed, the center goes on to point out that while major police organizations across the US have rules regarding what can and can’t be collected — and how that intelligence is administered — uniformity among agencies is largely absence, despite the fact that this information is routinely shared among others.
Additionally, the federally funded fusion centers — massive, Department of Homeland Security-assisted facilities used as intelligence processing nodes across the country — lack significant oversight altogether, according to the study. In a survey of 15 regional fusion centers, the Brennan Center found that only five of them have allowed an outside group to audit their operations.
Last year, the Senate’s bipartisan Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released the results of a lengthy probe meant to examine the efficiency of the nation’s 77 fusion centers in which the group determined the facilities have “not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts.”