Oregon Fusion Center: House of spies or terror-threat prevention?

By   /   May 23, 2013  /   News  /   2 Comments

CRACKDOWN: Police line the streets in downtown Portland during a 2011 Occupy protest

By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

PORTLAND – The funding for a data collection center aimed at identifying and defusing terrorist threats in Oregon is in flux.

The Oregon Terrorism Information Threat Assessment Network is one of several Federal Fusion Centers spread across 77 U.S. cities that collaborate with local law-enforcement agencies on suspected terrorist threats.

But from Portland to Boston the effectiveness of these centers, along with their potential to violate free speech and privacy rights, is being questioned. Federal lawmakers critical of the programs have accused the centers, an after effect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, of collecting “crap intelligence.”

Portland could be a good example of that, free speech advocates say.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a non-profit progressive legal organization based in Washington D.C., has obtained documents from the Department of Homeland Security via the Freedom of Information Act that show these centers were used, in part, to spy on peaceful protesters.

“What we’re seeing in the documents we’ve obtained is routine, systematic use of anti-terrorism criminal investigative authority against what is acknowledged to be completely peaceful and lawful in the United States,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of PCJF. “It is the apparatus of the intelligence entities turning to devote those resources against (organizations) most would not recognize as being terrorists.”

For example, in Portland the documents from DHS showed that the mayor and police collaborated to shut down Occupy Portland camps. DHS reported: “Business community and PD want this to end,” according to the documents obtained by PCJF.

“It’s really the government of the United States turning its sights on the people of the United States at a time when people are fighting back against the system,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.

Critics say the wide array of intelligence collected by these centers mucks up criminal investigations and, in the case of the Boston bombings, keeps law enforcement from preventing the real threats.

But Oregon state officials say the center is needed.

Oregon Department of Justice communications director Jeff Manning said the center was abuzz with threats of mass school shootings shortly after the Newtown, Conn., and Clackamas Town Center shootings.

“I don’t know how real any of that ever was but the fusion center was able to track all of that,” he said.

Manning said the fusions centers came about after 9/11.

“Secrecy was big and sharing information was not and the fusion center was sort of a realization that came with a huge price after 9/11,” he said.

But funding for the fusion centers, including the one in Oregon, is in jeopardy. It’s not the first time the center’s fate — funded by state and local tax dollars — has been up in the air.

“We’ll see what happens at this point,” Manning said. “We are hoping to secure the funding to keep it open and functioning.”

Verheyden-Hilliard said the surveillance of groups like Occupy Portland that are pushing back against the establishment creates an atmosphere where people become afraid of the consequences of protesting the status quo.

“The violation, too, is the chill that it impacts on people,” she said. “They’re making what is completely peaceful, lawful cherished free speech look like it’s criminal when it’s the farthest thing from criminal.”

Whether it continues will be up to the Oregon Legislature, which is now in the closing days of session and the thick of the budgeting process.

Contact Shelby Sebens at [email protected]

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Shelby formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Mad Dog

    If it serves a useful purpose, then the people in charge should be able to share some success stories with the public. How many are there? 100? How about 50? A dozen? My guess is zero.

  • Victory555

    It is frightening how Orwellian our government is becoming, and it is shocking how willing politicians and the media (right and left) are willing to embrace this. By scanning through comments on youtube and blogs you see that right wing conspiracy theorists are abuzz against it, but many liberals are for it, and some of their comments are horrific, including things like wanting to see fundimentalist Christians eliminated, as if having a liberal/progressive police state is a good thing. When Bush started this whole thing, with the Patriot Act, the liberals were the ones who were complaining. Expanded Executive Power is ok, I guess, if your the party in charge. But I hear the conservatives on FOX talking about how they want to preserve that power until their man gets in office. The New World Order is fine, as long as it is your party running the Order I guess.
    I am sure I am over generalizing, but the people in power and influence seem to be justifying the spying on civilians away, each hoping to use that power for their own purposes (whether now or later). We are one major crisis away from a full-blown police state, is my feeling.
    Being rather radical in my thinking and speaking, with rather unorthodox views that would pretty much offend both extremes in politics, I guess I am probably being monitored. I have never committed a crime, do not own a gun (though I support the right to own them), and I pretty much keep to myself. Really my only offense is sometimes being to vocal online, and being preachy in real life, as well as writing “non threatening” emails to various politicians. But in todays America, just talking to much, thinking out loud, and daring to say what you think or believe in public, or speak truth to Power, is enough to be considered a threat.
    One crisis away from a nightmare. I wonder sometimes, if the powers-that-be are actually trying to provoke rebellion, in order to justify marshal law, and thus justify sweeping the old order completely out the door.
    I always feel, nowadays, that I am writing posts like this to the people who run the Fusion Centers and the tapping networks. I think, Snowden is in trouble, because he stood up and said, “They are violating the constitution!” And almost no one cared, most hate him for saying it. He is on the run because he was afraid of prison and torture (a very real fear, fully justified–such things are scary). Yet when you work for the government, don’t you take an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC? So did he not uphold his oath, by speaking against violations of the constitution?
    They know all of our online secrets, those guys, and most of our real life ones too, and being human, we all have flaws and skelletons, so maybe they see us all as pieces of dung.
    These are just my thoughts… they are enough in themselves, I suppose, to mark me a danger… For good sheep do not think or talk about such things.