Washington: A multibillion-dollar information sharing programme created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001 has improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism, a US Senate report concludes.
It portrays an effort that ballooned far beyond anyone`s ability to control.
What began as an attempt to put local, state and federal officials in the same room analysing the same intelligence has instead cost huge amounts of money for data-mining software, flat screen televisions and, in Arizona, two fully equipped Chevrolet Tahoes that are used for commuting, investigators found.
"The ... Investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion centre reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," the report said.
When the programme did address terrorism, it sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties. The fusion centres have made headlines for circulating information about the American Civil Liberties Union, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.
One fusion centre cited in the Senate investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group`s list of book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.
The bipartisan report is a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts.
The report underscores a reality of post-9/11 Washington: National security programs tend to grow, never shrink, even when their money and manpower far surpass the actual subject of terrorism. Much of this money went for ordinary local crime-fighting.
Homeland Security says the report is outdated, inaccurate and too focused on information produced by the programme, ignoring benefits to local governments from their involvement with federal intelligence officials.
Because of a convoluted grants process set up by Congress, Homeland Security officials don`t know how much they have spent in their decade-long effort to set up so-called fusion centres in every state.
Government estimates range from less than USD 300 million to USD 1.4 billion in federal money, plus much more invested by state and local governments. Federal funding is pegged at about 20 per cent to 30 per cent.
Despite that, Congress is unlikely to stop the funding.