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Newsmonger

Newsmonger: State rejects GEO's bid for psych hospital, Fusion Centers under fire, Ethics probe heads to hearing

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The GEO Care would have saved the state an estimated $3.4 million, largely through layoffs and reduced benefits for GEO staff. The company also planned to cut spending on patient medical care and client services, according to the proposal.

Fusion Centers under fire

One of the country's largest post-9/11 domestic counterterrorism efforts is essentially a failure, a Congressional investigation found last week.

The analysis out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations reviewed a year's worth of reports out of the country's 77 so-called "Fusion Centers," regional intelligence-gathering partnerships between state, local, and the Department of Homeland Security officials bolstered by federal cash. The report states these fusion centers "forwarded 'intelligence' of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

Texas has more of these fusion centers than any other state, six in total, including the Austin Regional Intelligence Center and San Antonio's newly-minted Southwest Texas Fusion Center. Exactly how much the feds have dumped into these counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering partnerships is unclear. DHS figures peg spending somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in support of state and local fusion centers since 2003, broad estimates that differ by over $1 billion.

Last month, the nonpartisan Constitution Project issued its own report warning the intelligence-gathering centers provide little bang for the buck while encouraging the unwarranted harassment of First-Amendment protected activities. One example being a February 2009 "Prevention Awareness Bulletin" circulated out of a North Texas fusion center describing Muslim lobbying groups as "providing an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish." The bulletin warned that "the threats to Texas are significant" and called for law enforcement officers to report on activities like Muslim "hip hop fashion boutiques, hip hop bands, use of online social networks, video sharing networks, chat forums and blogs." The Constitution Project went on to warn "the definitions of suspicious behavior used by federal government and police forces are wide-ranging and include behavior that may be completely innocuous."

DHS officials often "overstated fusion centers' 'success stories,'" according to the Congressional report.

While Congressional investigators couldn't find evidence that any fusion center had uncovered or disrupted an active terrorist plot, they instead found: Nearly one-third of all reports generated were never circulated because "they lacked any useful information, or potentially violated department guidelines meant to protect Americans' civil liberties or Privacy Act protections."

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