- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The Soviet Union had its KGB, East Germany had its Stasi, and the United States should profit by those examples. It should abandon fusion centers that engage 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers in the business of gathering and sharing purported domestic or international terrorism intelligence. The vast majority conceive this task as synonymous with monitoring and scorning political dissent and association protected by the First Amendment.

To a hammer everything looks like a nail. To an intelligence agent, informant or law enforcement officer, everything unconventional or unorthodox looks like at least a pre-embryonic terrorist danger. The United States should not fall victim to the French Bourbon monarchy disease of forgetting nothing, and learning nothing, as with the A. Mitchell Palmer Raids, McCarthyism, COINTELPRO or Operation Shamrock.

Fusion centers pivot on the idea that the best way to forestall a second edition of Sept. 11, 2001, or a variation is to spy on American citizens in search of clues of an inclination toward future terrorism. Under U.S. law, an earmark of terrorism includes acts that “appear to be intended … to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Any dissidence or political dissident is suspect to fusion centers.

Their mischief is more than speculation or Aristotelian logic.

On Feb. 19, the North Central Texas Fusion System issued a routine Prevention Awareness Bulletin that easily might have been penned by recruits from East Germany’s Stasi. In bold letters, the bulletin worries that freedom of speech, the freedom to petition government for redress of grievances, and freedom of association are being exploited by Islamic groups to advance their Islamic-based goals by peaceful and lawful means. In other words, democracy is the enemy.

The bulletin screams: “Middle Eastern Terrorist groups and their supporting organizations have been successful in gaining support for Islamic goals in the United States and providing an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish.” It continues: “A number of organizations in the U.S. have been lobbying Islamic-based issues for many years. These lobbying efforts have turned public and political support towards radical goals such as Shariah law and support of terrorist military action against Western nations.”

That disparagement of freedom of speech and association in search of political change was rebuked by U.S. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in De Jonge v. Oregon in 1937: “The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.”

The fusion center’s bulletin next attacks the Constitution’s celebration of religious accommodation and diversity with a cri de coeur against voluntary bows toward Islamic practices and the possibility of altering American law accordingly:

“Taken in that context, pushing an aggressive, pro-Islam agenda that’s been increasingly successful in recent years takes on a new light. The following list taken in isolation seems rather innocuous: Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refuse to carry passengers who have alcohol in their possession; The Indianapolis airport in 2007 installed footbaths to accommodate Muslim prayer; Public schools schedule prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim students; Pork is banned in the workplace; etc.

“Tolerance is growing in more formal areas. The Department of Treasury recently hosted a conference titled ‘Islamic Finance 101,’ which indicates the government hopes to secure recycled petrodollars in exchange for conforming to Shariah economic doctrine. … A Houston bank now offers Islamic Financing for home loans.”

Los Angeles Police Department Special Order No. 11, of March 5, 2008, declares it is the department’s policy to “gather, record, and analyze information of a criminal or noncriminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,” and includes a list of 65 behaviors Los Angeles police officers “shall” report, for instance, “taking notes.” The director of national intelligence has promoted the LAPD as an intelligence collection model.

First Amendment principles will never be honored by law enforcement officers or public officials in the business of intelligence collection. They are rewarded financially and professionally by the volume of intelligence collected. There are no serious quality controls. Few if any are capable of separating the terrorist wheat from the innocuous chaff. There are no reliable earmarks of a would-be terrorist.

Timothy McVeigh was not a prime suspect in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Arab Muslims were. Because anything might be a clue as to a possible psychological inclination to commit terrorism, everything is fair game for intelligence collection. But when everything is relevant, nothing is relevant. That may explain why there is no credible evidence that fusion centers have frustrated a single terrorist plot - their primary raison d’etre.

They are no more American than was the House Un-American Activities Committee, and they deserve the same fate.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates Inc., and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy.”

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