There is always a danger whenever you put something in writing – your words may come back and haunt you or be used against you. Such was the case of Bruce Fein, one of the witnesses at today’s hearing, “The Future of Fusion Centers: Potential Promise and Dangers” before the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
While the focus of the hearing was to address the viability and effectiveness of the various Fusion Centers operating around the US, the attending Members and witnesses found themselves instead addressing (and refuting) points that Mr. Fein raised in his Op-Ed published in today’s Washington Times, “Surveilling for clues of evil intent.”
In his Times’ piece targeting Fusion Centers, Mr. Fein stated the following:
“The Soviet Union had its KGB, East Germany had its Stasi, and the United States should profit by those examples. It should abandon fusion centers that engage 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers in the business of gathering and sharing purported domestic or international terrorism intelligence. The vast majority conceive this task as synonymous with monitoring and scorning political dissent and association protected by the First Amendment.”
“First Amendment principles will never be honored by law enforcement officers or public officials in the business of intelligence collection. They are rewarded financially and professionally by the volume of intelligence collected. There are no serious quality controls. Few if any are capable of separating the terrorist wheat from the innocuous chaff. There are no reliable earmarks of a would-be terrorist.”
“They [Fusion Centers] are no more American than was the House Un-American Activities Committee, and they deserve the same fate.”
Before every Congressional Hearing, invited witnesses traditionally submit a statement for the record detailing their thoughts and insights on the subject. Mr Fein complied with that tradition with his submitted statement, but his Times Op-Ed was the hand-grenade that set the hearing off.
In response to his Times editorial, the Members and first panel of called witnesses (all of whom were distinguished law enforcement/public safety officials from federal, state and local governments) repudiated his words calling them:
• “over the top”
• “he [Fein] wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
• “I object to Mr. Fein’s assertions…”
• “offensive and inaccurate” and,
• “vitriolic claims.”
When the time came to question the assembled panel of witnesses, Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) pointedly asked all of them whether Fusion Centers were spying on Americans as alleged by Mr. Fein in his editorial.
They all responded, “No” or “That’s false.”
When asked if Fusion Center personnel were “rewarded financially and professionally by the volume of intelligence collected,” they all called Fein’s accusation, “False.”
When asked if there were “no serious quality controls” on intelligence and Fusion Centers products, the witnesses all responded again that Fein’s charges were, “False.”
“False” was again the operative word in responding to Harman’s final question about Mr. Fein’s assertion that Fusion Center personnel were not, “capable of separating the terrorist wheat from the innocuous chaff.”
And all of this occurred before Mr. Fein even opened his mouth to testify.
When his turn came as part of the second panel of witnesses, a professionally defiant Mr. Fein asserted that “it’s not paranoid to be concerned about spying on Americans.”
He pointed to the lack of accountability and full insight and investigation as to what the Bush Administration had done immediately post-9/11 “in spying on Americans” in their effort to thwart further attacks.
Fein further pointed to the fact that there was no real proof that these actions really worked to disrupt other attacks and that all we have to go are the words of the previous Administration and the public pronouncements of Bush and Cheney.
He also stated that it was wrong to see the recent actions of the North Central Texas Fusion System in its Feb 19th Prevention Awareness Bulletin as a single “aberration.”
Fein pointed to the fact that there has been no evidence to date that indicates any sanctions, reprimands or accountability has occurred for this Fusion Center’s recent actions in the issuance of its more than controversial bulletin.
The lack of FOIA applicability and other outside check and balance systems to monitor the Fusion Centers was also of great concern to him.
In closing his oral statement Fein offered “Without sunshine we will never know what was going wrong here or how it can be addressed.”
As spirited and pointed as his defense of his positions were the bubble of his arguments burst during the Q&A portion of the hearing when Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), offered a very simple question:
“Have you ever been to a Fusion Center?”
Fein’s response: “No… but I’ve been invited to the Los Angeles one. I’ve said ‘yes’ but when I go I want to see all the files to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing.”
With that response, Rep. Clarke (and the other Subcommittee Members) noted that Fein’s “credibility” on Fusion Centers was significantly “diminished.”
I guess you could call that a “knock out punch” but in picking him up off the boxing mat, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) observed in listening to Mr. Fein’s arguments that he didn’t know if he “was a canary in a coal mine,” warning of prospective danger or a “woodpecker that had pecked too much.”
Regardless of what fowl he may be, Mr. Fein’s warnings and concerns however valid and appropriate went POOF when pressed to answer a very simple question.
Seeing this all unfold in the Hearing reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ classic story, “Green Eggs and Ham.”
After all of the rude, berating and howling protests to Sam, the unnamed main character finally relents and gives Sam’s offering a taste to only discover that it’s not the horror he imagined it to be.
Maybe the Fusion Centers can chip in and buy Mr. Fein a copy of it in time for a future Fusion Center visit. He might just like it.
And who knows how he might feel about Fusion Centers the next time.