Friday, April 3, 2009

North Central Texas "Terror" Fusion Center

The Texas Observer, The Collin County Observer and this blog has been posting about the Department Of Homeland Security funded North Central Texas Fusion System located in Collin County. (What is a "fusion center?") Forrest Wilder today posted another good story about this domestic intelligence gathering operation in the Texas Observer:

Dr. Bob's Terror Shop

The strange and scary story of the North Central Texas Fusion System.

By Forrest Wilder,
The Texas Observer
April 03, 2009


One morning in February, more than 2,000 cops, fire marshals, and public health officials in the Dallas-Fort Worth area received a memo—stamped “For Official Use Only”—that contained shocking information: Middle Eastern terrorists and “their supporting organizations” had gained a stronghold in America.

The memo warned:
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. ... [T]he threats to Texas are significant.
Who were these Osama bin Lobbyists who had convinced Americans to support terrorism? Citing a grab bag of right-wing blogs and news sources, the memo [cites, among several concerns] that a class on Islamic finance taught at the U.S. Treasury Department “indicates the possibility that the [U.S.] government hopes to secure recycled petrodollars in exchange for conforming to [Islamic] Shariah economic doctrine.” The memo ends by calling on law enforcement to “report” the activities of [what it identified and listed as Islamic sympathizer] organizations.

The missive reads like a rant by a paranoid conspiracy nut. In fact, the so-called “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” is a weekly product of the North Central Texas Fusion System, a terrorism and crime-prevention intelligence center run by the Collin County Department of Homeland Security.

. . .The bulletin is written by the architect and operator of the fusion system, Bob Johnson, a former chief scientist for defense contractor Raytheon Co. Johnson has a background in data mining, the controversial, computer-aided practice of trolling massive quantities of data in pursuit of patterns and links.

. . .Among his critics in Texas, Bob Johnson is better known as “Son of Sam”—the son of U.S Rep. Sam Johnson, the conservative Republican congressman who has represented Collin and Dallas Counties [in the 3rd Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives] since 1992. [.The 3rd Congressional District includes the southwestern portion of Collin County and the Northeastern corner of Dallas County.]

. . .Since 2004, [Johnson and his wife Anita] have received $1.1 million in no-bid contracts. At least $80,000 of that money has been passed along, in the form of a subcontract, to Anita’s brother, Elbert Bassham, who runs a one-person consulting firm listed at a Marfa post-office box that he shares with a beauty salon.

I’m not aware of any other fusion center that has a husband-and-wife team building, running, and managing it,” says James Paat, CEO of Sypherlink Inc., an Ohio-based data integration company that lost the subcontract. In a 2007 letter to Collin County, Mr. Paat accused ADB Consulting of rigging the scoring process and asked that the contract be rescinded.

Funding for the fusion system comes from state and federal Department Of Homeland Security grants as well as Collin County funds.

. . .It’s tempting to dismiss the fusion center as one man’s risible, if expensive, [tax payer funded] computer science project. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took [Johnson's] menacing February memo seriously enough that it sent a three-person team to train North Texas fusion personnel on federal rules [in accordance with the December 11, 2008 Department of Homeland Security State, Local, and Regional Fusion Center Initiative Privacy Impact Assessment directive.]

. . .In 2007, a former senior intelligence analyst for the Collin County fusion system described the center to an online trade publication as the “wild west,” a place where analysts could try out new technologies [at tax payer expense] before “politics” caught up with them.

. . . “We’ve built this network, and nobody’s policing it,” says Mike German, a former FBI agent now with the ACLU. “Nobody knows exactly what each fusion center is doing.” Part of the problem, German says, is that fusion centers fall in a “no-man’s-land” between federal and state governments. Such ambiguity can lead fusion centers to pick and choose which rules apply to them. A 2007 study by the Government Accountability Office found that one-third of all fusion centers reported a lack of guidance on the proper handling of information, including privacy and civil-liberties concerns.

Read the full story in the Texas Observer....

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