BY KEN LITTLE
Big Brother is closer than many people may think, guest speaker Tona Monroe told members of the Greeneville Tea Party Thursday night at the organization's monthly meeting at the Olde Towne Family Restaurant.
Monroe, of Blount County, is Tennessee and Southeastern Coordinator of Operation Defuse, which seeks to expose what she said are excesses by law enforcement fusion centers across the country, particularly the Tennessee Fusion Center in Nashville.
Fusion centers were originally established to assist state agencies in combining and analyzing information about terrorism and other threats.
Tennessee's Fusion Center, a collaborative effort by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security, was created in 2007, one of dozens established nationwide following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The unwanted result of Fusion Centers and other government-sponsored crimefighting initiatives across the nation, Monroe said, is a "surveillance police state," as the role of law enforcement becomes blurred from combating terrorism to monitoring the activities of innocent citizens.
Law enforcement and other government agencies have overstepped their boundaries in the effort to achieve "global justice," Monroe told the gathering of about 40 people.
Fusion center actives raise "serious privacy concerns," Monroe said.
According to the http://www.operationdefuse.com website, a fusion center is a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement apparatus "which seeks to merge the information gathering and intelligence sharing practices of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies."
Monroe said fusion centers were initially presented to the public as a means of preventing and combating terrorism, but soon took on an "all-crimes approach," incorporating information and intelligence about a multitude of crimes, from simple traffic tickets to major drug distribution networks.
"Drifting even further from their original purpose, some fusion centers have begun collecting and analyzing private non-criminal information such as shopping purchases, driving habits, and even health records," according to the website.
The FBI started the first Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in 1980 with the New York City Police Department..
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, states and local officials felt that FBI JTTF's across the country weren't sharing enough information, Monroe said.
By 2003, the creation of a "Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council" was recommended, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) formalized the request in 2004.
In December 2004, the Homeland Security Advisory Council recommended that each state establish an organization for "efficient sharing of data among justice agencies," according to documents complied by Monroe and included in a power point presentation.
The result was a "Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative," an effort to share information with law enforcement agencies in other countries.
"I've never seen the government be efficient about anything," Monroe said. "You can see they quickly go beyond terrorism," Monroe said.
DOJ guidelines call for fusion centers to "to improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a number of sources."
Monroe said there are issues of accountability with fusion centers, which focuses on gathering information for analysis to support local police. There are now at least 72 fusion centers in the U.S., she said.
"It tends to fly in the face of what our founders envisioned," Monroe added.
The Tennessee Fusion Center also serves as a "Regional Organized Crime Information Center" for the Southeast and was recognized nationally in 2011 as the "Fusion Center of the Year."
"We're the example of the police state," Monroe said.
One concern, Monroe said, is the type of information collected and shared by fusion centers, and who gets that information.
Fusion center customers include state and local law enforcement, fire and emergency services, homeland security agencies and elected officials at all levels, Monroe said.
Information collected and shared touches on virtually every aspect of daily life, she said, including areas like agriculture, the environment, banks and finance, the chemical industry, criminal justice, energy, hospitals, social services, transportation, real estate and retailers.
Much of the information is gathered under the auspices of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative, which was created to provide a "unified process for reporting, tracking, and accessing [SARs]" in a manner that rigorously protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans," according to the SAR website, http://www.nsi.ncirc.gov/
"It eliminates the need for reasonable suspicion," Monroe said. "They basically don't have to have reasonable suspicion to do anything."
The extent of SARs in Tennessee varies by law enforcement jurisdiction, Monroe said.
One thing is clear, Monroe said:
"They are getting out of control."
Fusion centers generate strategic reports disseminated to their customers," Monroe said.
"Basically, they stereotype and profile people," she said.
Fusion centers urge citizens to report anything suspicious to authorities. That covers a broad category of activities, Monroe said.
"They're actually encouraging we become Nazi Germany and report your neighbor," Monroe said.
Federal funding makes operation of the fusion centers possible, Monroe said.
"We know state and local government have been laying down to the federal government for years," she said.
Monroe said that the public should be concerned about fusion centers.
Points she touched on include the "federalization" of fusion centers, which are an entity "too big to be accountable."
LEADS TO PROFILING?
She said the government's "out-of-control and unaccountable spending" on fusion centers leads to the profiling of "peaceful law abiding citizens."
She also expressed concern about undercover surveillance and "false information being shared" among law enforcement and other governmental agencies.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which generally doesn't see eye-to-eye with Tea Party doctrine, is in agreement about some wrongful aspects of fusion centers, Monroe said.
SARs, she said, "can be generated for innocuous peaceful lawful activity" and forwarded to a fusion center.
"One of the things in our favor is that they collect so much [information], they don't know what to do with it," Monroe said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security admits it doesn't know how much it spends on fusion centers, she said.
"I don't have inside information," Monroe said. "I'm an outsider looking in and I'm really concerned."
Government computers are hacked all the time, raising another concern about personal information on file at fusion centers, Monroe said.
"Our information is not safe," she said.
Monroe offered advice to minimize contributing to the information gathering apparatus.
One action is to pay with cash and discard credit cards, so no personal records are generated, Monroe said.
She recommended to also be cautious about what is said and posted online, to read privacy notices, advocate privacy protection laws and "work to de-fund or abolish fusion centers."
One other thing: "Love thy neighbor."
"If we did that we could get rid of government," Monroe said.
Monroe spoke to a receptive Tea Party group. Many chapters "don't even know [fusion centers] are an issue," she said.
"We are not the terrorists," said Robert Kent, who attended the meeting.