It was with a great deal of amusement I found this video on YouTube. Jesse Ventura, apparently attempting to reprise his role as the Man in Black from the most excellent episode of the X Files Jose Chung’s From Outer Space had started a TV show titled ‘Conspiracy Theory’.
In any case, in this particular segment, Jesse takes on fusion centers. Ah, apparently they’re secret, unaccountable government agencies paving the way for the introduction of a totalitarian police state (is that redundant?).
This is actually a really good case study of how you can take one set of facts and twist them into an alternate explanation. Allow me to demonstrate…
This clip does point out many truths about fusion centers. They do lack decent oversight. They do lack good policies, clear missions, trained personnel, and combine both intelligence collection and law enforcement powers under one roof. They have exceeded their mandates (such as they are) and, at times, have collected information on people not suspected of criminal activity.
But, dear reader, that does NOT mean they’re fulfilling some grand design to institute a police state.
No. Rather, it’s an indicator of their incompetence. Remember Occam’s razor. If a phenomenon has multiple explanations, the least complicated is the most likely. Which is more likely: an organization planning (and successfully hiding) a conspiracy to enslave the entire population or an organization staffed by people whose only exposure to intelligence involves masturbating to reruns of 24 and the Die Hard series?
Case in point. Allow me to take the liberty of sharing a story an analyst told me recently (let’s call him/her ‘analyst X’).
Upon being hired to work in a fusion center, analyst X was given an orientation to the center by his/her new supervisor. Wanting to be a motivated employee, X asked:
Analyst X: Do you have any policies, procedures, standards, etc. that I can review so that I can make sure I’m doing things the proper way?
Supervisor: We’re actually a ‘seat of our pants’ operation. We’d sure love to have all that stuff but we just don’t have the time.*
Analyst X: But how do you decide what you’re going to work on, which requests you’ll address or how you’ll create your products?
Supervisor: Oh, we just give things a ‘sniff test’. If it seems to make sense we just go with it.
*It is worth noting that this particular fusion center has been in existence for several years now not to mention the fact that you’d probably expect things like policies and procedures to be developed before you actually started actually doing stuff.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you shouldn’t worry too much about fusion centers over the long term. With more than 70 of the things active now in the nation it is only a matter of time before someone clearly oversteps their bounds, gets caught and the entire edifice comes crashing down. Most places still don’t understand the difference between information and intelligence or information sharing and intelligence analysis.
It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.
I’m convinced that’s ultimately a shame because I think there is a role for a domestic intelligence agency that need not infringe upon the rights of citizens.
Getting to that place would be a complicated affair and I don’t want to pretend it’s simply a matter of a tweak here or there to fix this problem but I could recommend some pretty big steps forward:
- Strip law enforcement powers from the intelligence agency (the two are incompatible once you get beyond crime analysis and investigative analysis)
- Give the centers a clear mission. None of this ‘all crimes-all hazards’ crap. That’s designed to scoop up all the federal grant money possible without actually being responsible for anything. “He who defends everything defends nothing.”
- Require intelligence training and/or experience to run these centers…or fill a supervisory role. And no, the fact that you bought an ounce of weed from a stoner 20 years ago does NOT count as intelligence experience.
- It’s a fusion center. It’s not NORAD or the Puzzle Palace. Everything need not be treated like nuclear launch codes. How about actually releasing some information to the public? There are a number of products (yes, even intelligence products) whose release would be a public service.
Anyway, here’s the clip. I hope no one is actually taking this nonsense seriously. The pathetic attempts to manipulate the audience coupled with the cognitive biases and outright sexism are pretty shocking (Oh, look, it’s a girl! How could a girl possibly be a danger to anyone?)