DHS (the Federal Department of Homeland Security) lists 53 state and territory fusion centers. Tennessee Fusion Center is at 901 R.S. Gass Boulevard Nashville, TN 37243 and it has four branches, including one in Memphis.
One of the initial purposes of the Fusion Centers was to roll out computer systems, based on NCIS (National Crime Information System) in order to allow information sharing between local LE units. This role seems to have morphed into a real-time help desk operation sharing information of sometimes dubious provenance.
US Senate Rejects Fusion Centers
Many concerns have been raised, from the points of view of both efficacy and civil rights violations. The United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report said “Despite reviewing 13 months’ worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot”. This translates, roughly, to “Fusion Centers don’t work”.
ACLU “Surveillance Society” from Fusion Centers
A 2007 ACLU report raised concerns with four areas of fusion center aspects, and said that that the fusion centers were creating a “total surveillance society” in the US. They suffered from “ambiguous lines of authority”, meaning that the fusion process “allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of ‘policy shopping’.” The ACLU was also concerned with the private sector and military participation in the surveillance of US citizens through these fusion centers. Finally, the ACLU report argued that fusion centers were likely to engage in poorly contained data mining because the “Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy” and that the centers were “hobbled by excessive secrecy”.
Tenn. Fusion Centers and the A-list
In the wake of the A-list revelations in Memphis, Jeff Winters published Documents: Tennessee Law Enforcement and Joint Terrorism Task Force Monitored Darrius Stewart Vigil, Other Memphis BLM Events. This paper included the text of an Open Records Act report he obtained from the State of Tennessee.
This report lists various notifications made to MPD and other LE relating to events around the July 2016 commemoration of the killing of Darrius Stewart a year earlier.
On 16th July, 2016, Nashville Fusion Center analyst Lizbeth Hale circulated a memo entitled “ Potential for increased violence towards Tennessee Law Enforcement in response to recent events”. The threats were “non specific in nature”. Referring to the numerous protests planned, “There exists potential for domestic extremists, homegrown violent extremists and criminals to incite or carry out attacks / acts of violence using the legitimate, legal protests as cover”.
The report listed a car load of armed white supremacists traveling to Memphis to protest at Nathan Bedford (now Health Sciences) park. They did not appear. They also listed several reports of local Vice Lord and Gangsta Disciples tasked to shoot law enforcement, which also didn’t happen. These threats were anonymous, unsourced and ultimately unreliable.
On the strength of these rumors, there was a flurry of emails back and forth, involving Stephanie Juneau of the Memphis fusion center at 225 N. Humphreys Blvd, Suite 3000. There is a cluster of Federal and State law enforcement offices near that address. These emails describe gatherings on Winchester and at Health Sciences Park where protests were uneventful and almost rained out. Other gatherings at shopping locations, the National Civil Rights Museum, various churches and the Commercial Appeal offices featured real time email updates from police who were surveilling protest participants. These events also involved protests at Graceland and the I-40 bridge.
Many of the individuals at these protests later turned up on the A-list. There is clear evidence that Facebook feeds were involved, with quotations from Frank Gotti’s facebook page, and it was also noted that when participants were asked not to publish times and places of events, the presumed Geofeedia information was not available to help MPD. But we also believe that photographs were made, from unmarked vehicles, and it is possible that the MPD Stingray cell-eavesdropping technology might have been deployed. We count at least a dozen A-list members, including Mary and Terry Stewart, the mother and aunt of the slain Darrius Stewart, whose MPD file probably started around this time.
We conclude that, last July, the Tennessee Fusion Center relied on inaccurate, unverified and ultimately false reports of possible criminal players who might or might not have had an interest in using the protests as cover for unlawful events. These bogus reports were used to justify unlawful collection of political intelligence and the creation of MPD files on political activists. We saw these files surface in the extract we call the A-list.
MPD Confidential Sources reveal ‘threat’ policy
Confidential sources with direct knowledge of MPD operations confirm that whenever a threat exists, files can be opened on individuals based on the threat. The threat does not have to be from a known or credible source, and, even when the threat is proven to be false, the MPD files remain. Political intelligence on anyone remotely connected with the time and place of the threat can be collected and filed, and there is no mechanism to automatically remove these files if the threat is later proven false.
Corroboration: Diamond Pipeline “Con”Fusion
Further support for the theory that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / fusion centers play a role in providing pretexts for political surveillance is in this Washington Examiner piece. A report produced by DHS, and the state fusion centers of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, cited vague threats. Without any specific threat, they mention the peaceful protests mounted against the Diamond Pipeline. “While most opposition activity related to pipeline construction remains nonviolent and lawful protest activity, some violent extremists may take advantage of lawful gatherings to attempt to threaten, incite, or commit violent acts against public safety officers or facility staff.” They say that extreme loner offenders might attach themselves to legitimate protest groups. They cited “Ecoterrorism” in generally and no specific person, group or threat. This is actually a broad surveillance threat to most activists in Memphis, as the Diamond protestors are closely allied to many umbrella groups, including CCC.
If previous experience with the Tennessee fusion center holds true, we expect that this report will be used to justify political intelligence gathering against the Diamond / Valero protesters, which will pull in associations with a large swath of local activists, with whom the Diamond activists are highly integrated.
In Conclusion, the Fusion Center concept, even though it was determined by the Senate to be useless against the terrorist threats for which it was created, staggers forward years after its failure. The Tennessee Fusion Center creates false reports of gangster and domestic terrorist activity and promulgates these into local LE criminal databases, including those of MPD. These spurious reports are then leveraged to provide excuses for MPD to participate in prohibited collection of political intelligence gathering.
MPD Pol Intel, 66 years and still with us
MPD never needed such an excuse. The 1978 ACLU consent decree documents one undercover MPD agent who infiltrated the Civil Rights movement starting in 1951. When ACLU challenged MPD on its failure to implement the consent decree in 2010, Larry Godwin, the MPD director, instituted rule DR 138, more than twenty two years too late. As the Tennessee Fusion Center was in operation by that time, it seems that MPD rolled right over to using the spurious anti-terrorism pretext of the Fusion Centers to continue its illegal political intel gathering unabated.
MPD has been, for over 66 years, the most serious threat to civil liberties in Memphis. The Tennessee Fusion Centers, and the other nationwide Fusion Centers, may well be the worst threat to civil liberties in the nation.