The state of Iowa has posted intriguing videos online that depict how controversial state and local intelligence fusion centers operate. Several dozen centers have been constructed around the United States with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal homeland security grants. Authorities argue the centers will help prevent another 9/11 attack by enabling police to collect and share critical intelligence about possible terrorist threats.

But civil libertarians have increasingly sounded the alarm that the centers will go too far in warehousing sensitive personal information about Americans who have done nothing wrong. Earlier this week Elevated Risk reported that a program to gather so-called “suspicious activity reports” and share them among fusion centers is on the verge of going national.

The second video below features Russell Porter, head of the fusion center in Iowa who also leads the private nonprofit Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Units. That group has represented local police intelligence teams since 1956 when “Red Squads,” as they were sometimes called, aggressively collected and stored information on Americans believed to be a Communist threat.

Many fusion center backers such as Porter today are highly sensitive to suggestions that the past conduct of Red Squads will be repeated anew in the war on terror, and they’re eager to prove the centers have strong civil liberties and privacy protections in place. Porter does exactly that at the beginning of the second video stating first and foremost the state of Iowa’s motto: “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”

But the centers to a large degree operate independently without significant federal oversight, and so they haven’t escaped gaffs that led to bad publicity. For anyone interested in domestic intelligence, these videos are a must-see.

Meanwhile, a libertarian group in Austin, Texas, says that during a May 3 local Public Safety Commission meeting it will be putting on “quite a show” to protest a fusion center there that’s scheduled be up and running soon.


National overview of fusion centers in the United States


Overview of fusion center in the state of Iowa

G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED, Wired.com, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.