- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A multiagency anti-drug task force has withheld some of its data from law enforcement workers, obstructed internal investigations into its practices and retaliated against those who reported its dysfunctions to authorities, a report says.

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Program has a rogue unit dubbed the Fusion Center that may be limiting the overall program’s effectiveness, according to a report released Wednesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has described the program as the Justice Department’s centerpiece in combating drug trafficking and money laundering operations. The Fusion Center is comprised mostly of FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration employees whose internal bickering has resulted in the withholding of counterintelligence data to law enforcement personnel, the report says.

“This morning’s report of the Department of Justice Inspector General revealed two very disturbing incidents,” Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, said in an emailed statement. “FBI employees were locked out of a Task Force Fusion Center database for six weeks due to bureaucratic infighting, and FBI agents were subject to retaliation for cooperating with an [inspector general] investigation.

“This is double trouble — as both incidents undermine the accountability of the Department and the ability of law enforcement personnel to do their jobs. Fortunately, the Director [James B. Comey] takes these issues seriously and promised to respond to me as soon as possible regarding these incidents. I look forward to hearing from him.”

The FBI suspected that the Fusion Center, while headed by a DEA employee, favored the DEA in its intelligence findings and limited the bureau’s access to data even though the FBI contributed heavily to the task force’s centralized information-gathering activities.

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The FBI then told the Fusion Center that it would work only with its bureau employees assigned to the center. The Fusion Center responded by suspending all FBI workers from its database for six weeks.

“We believe that a dispute of this significance is a cause for serious concern and it should never have been allowed,” the inspector general report said, adding that the retaliation “inevitably harmed the operations” of the center.

When FBI workers blew the whistle, the report says, the center’s director retaliated. In addition, the Fusion Center tried to obstruct the inspector general’s investigation by withholding documents and pressuring its employees not to cooperate fully in interviews with investigators.

The center’s “management took actions during this review that created difficulties for the [inspector general] in obtaining information directly from employees and ensuring that interview responses were candid and complete,” the report says.

“The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces cooperated fully with the [inspector general’s] audit,” a Justice Department representative said in an emailed statement. “We are pleased that the [inspector general] adopted many of our own recommendations regarding the improvement of the OCDETF Fusion Center’s processes, and we have already begun to implement those changes. We, however, take exception to the report’s references to pending investigations.”

The Fusion Center was created to produce intelligence products as requested by federal investigators in drug trafficking and money laundering cases. Among its employees are agents from the FBI; the DEA; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Homeland Security.

“What we have here is people caring more about their turf war and protecting their little fiefdoms than caring about their mission,” said Leslie Paige, vice president of policy and communications at the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. “These people need to be reminded who they work for: us, the taxpayers. And their mission isn’t small stuff. Organized crime and drug enforcement are big issues. They’re wasting more than our money; people could get hurt.”

The Fusion Center’s management reports to the task forces program director, James Dinan, who reports to Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. The task force was created to help the Justice Department improve coordination of its anti-drug efforts among its disparate agencies.

The working relationship between the Fusion Center and the FBI is strained at best and the center is not adequately prioritizing or disseminating information, the report says.

The Fusion Center fails to prioritize requests for information on high-value drug trafficking targets and is slow to respond to requests, according to the report, and its employees are unsure about authorization to share information.

“We disagree with the [inspector general] regarding the facts surrounding several of its statements made in its final report,” the task force’s executive office said. “Further we disagree with the [inspector general] regarding the inclusion of certain investigative matters that are factually incomplete, have not yet been adjudicated, or are not relevant.”

The task force denied obstructing the inspector general’s investigation, saying it “made every effort” to cooperate with the investigative body in its fact-finding mission.

It also denied it had a “strained relationship” with the FBI and disagreed with the inspector general’s decision to include the whistleblower accusations, which have not been fully adjudicated.

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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