By LEO HOHMANN
The West Virginia Fusion Center hired a new director last month who promised to expand the secretive intelligence-gathering unit’s use of a controversial tactic called SARs or “suspicious activity reports.”
An investigative report last week by LeoHohmann.com into the Fusion Center’s role in monitoring and questioning a citizen activist appears to be the latest example of an ordinary citizen being violated by an over-aggressive federally connected fusion center.
On Feb. 14, the West Virginia Fusion Center announced it had a new director, Jessica Griffith. In the press release announcing her hire, Griffith is quoted saying she intends to expand the fusion center’s use of the SAR community-snitching program.
Anyone can file an SAR against a fellow citizen and remain totally anonymous, leading to an investigation that includes personal data mining on the reported individual. The secretive nature of the SARs have drawn criticisms from civil libertarians such as the Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead who compare the tactic to those employed by the East German Stasi and other Soviet Bloc secret police units.
The West Virginian Fusion Center’s Feb. 14 press release states:
“As Director, Griffith said she will seek to expand awareness about Suspicious Activity Reporting, or SAR, tools available to everyday citizens, ‘since the West Virginia Intelligence/Fusion Center is the repository for SARs in the state.’”
The ramifications of what happened to Brenda Arthur are huge.
If a 66-year-old Jewish-American woman who happens to be the chapter leader for ACT For America can be subjected to police harassment, then no activist anywhere in the United States is safe from such intimidation tactics.
Several activists have already reported they have sent the article to their elected leaders, asking them to rein in the fusion centers, which were set up by the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama. There is at least one in every state.
Their original mission was to share data among state, local and federal law enforcement, as well as drawing intelligence from corporate America and other private-sector sources, in hopes of stopping another 9/11-style Islamic terror attack.
Since then, they have suffered from a severe case of mission creep.
Arthur, the subject of last week’s story, did nothing wrong. She simply viewed public-record documents involving the permitting process for a mosque project at her city’s building department in South Charleston. Her name was not even on the Freedom of Information Act request filed with the city. She merely accompanied a friend to city hall that day and it was her friend, who does not wish to be named, who had filed the FOIA request.
The two women observed the mosque construction permits and site plans on Jan. 31 while two city officials stood over their shoulders and told them not to take pictures of the documents with their cellphones.
More than two months later, on March 8, an officer with the State Police Criminal Intelligence Unit paid a visit to Arthur’s house. She didn’t answer the door, so he left his business card [see scan below] with a note instructing her to call him.
Many questions remain unanswered.
“Who filed this report against me? What other information or data do they have on me?” Arthur asks. “I want to know what else they have in their database, and how does one get their name purged from this database.”
Arthur also wants to know why she received a visit from a state-police officer, whose unit works with the West Virginia Fusion Center, while her friend, who filed the FOIA request, did not?
Was Arthur being monitored by law enforcement even before she viewed the public-record documents, possibly because of her successful activism with ACT For America?
How did the State Police even find out that she had gone to city hall and performed the perfectly legal activity of viewing public-record documents?
Perhaps these are questions for new director, Jessica Griffith, to answer.
Did someone at city hall file a Suspicious Activity Report, or SAR, against Arthur, reporting her to the police or the fusion center? Or did someone at the mosque file the SAR against Arthur?
Either way, Arthur says it is outrageous that the investigation into her private affairs went as far as it did, warranting a personal visit to her house and an interrogation over the phone by Sgt. R.C. Workman.
Arthur said she also wants to know if the investigation into her activism has been closed in the wake of her interview with Sgt. Workman, or is it still ongoing?
If it has been closed, has Arthur’s name been deleted from the fusion center database and any other databases that scooped it up as a result of her perfectly legal activities at city hall?
These are all questions for which answers are owed by the State of West Virginia to Arthur. As a 66-year-old upstanding American, native of West Virginia, who has never committed a crime in her life, she has earned the right to an explanation for her state’s bizarre criminal investigation of her legal activities.
Make no mistake, no state sends out a criminal investigation unit to someone’s house unless they are investigating that person for a crime.
How many other activists with ACT For America and other organizations are also being monitored by police who receive anonymous tips based purely on political motives?
Brenda Arthur deserves answers. American taxpayers funding the fusion centers deserve answers.
This news site has asked for answers.
Unfortunately, we received a big, fat “we decline to comment” from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, which oversees the State Police and the West Virginia Fusion Center. This only makes their treatment of Arthur seem more shady.
Those who defend such intrusive tactics by fusion centers, need to ask themselves: What right does an officer of the law have to call and question a law-abiding American citizen about their legal activities involving the Freedom of Information Act? How can the knock on the door and the request for an explanation for her involvement in an FOIA request be seen as anything but rank intimidation?
That’s not how America is supposed to work.
We have the right to face our accusers, we have the right to know what data the government is collecting on us and whether we are being investigated for a crime, or just harassed by a rogue police agency.
It’s time for Congress to take a close look at the fusion centers. They operate in all 50 states, and they are funded by a combination of federal, state and, in some cases, local tax dollars.
West Virginia is not the first state to use a fusion center for questionable intelligence gathering.
Fusion centers are extremely controversial in both conservative and liberal circles. They have long been criticized for their excessive secrecy and lack of oversight.
Brenda Arthur is not the first victim of unwarranted state intrusion coming from a fusion center.
Muslim Brotherhood operative Mohamed Elibiary, who sat on Obama’s homeland security task force, tried to use fusion center data to smear former Gov. Rick Perry during his presidential campaign.
There’s another case that raised eyebrows in Boston.
In March 2007, Boston police took it upon themselves to monitor an antiwar event at a local church, taking careful notes and later filing an intelligence report that described the gathering as a criminal act involving extremists. When the American Civil Liberties Union later obtained a copy of the report and published the information, the public was astonished and outraged to learn of the surveillance, which was undertaken by Boston’s fusion center, known as the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, or BRIC. [See Fusion Centers Struggle to Find their Place in Post-9/11 World, by Brian Peteritas, Governing, June 2013.]
The official mission of the West Virginia Fusion Center can be found on the state’s website.
It talks a lot about sharing and “fusing” data together from different sources, collected from both government and private sources, in an effort to predict, and stop, terrorism and crimes before they occur.
That’s all well and good, until the definition of a terrorist/criminal changes or evolves into the mold of someone like Brenda Arthur in West Virginia or the anti-war church-goers in Boston.
The fusion centers state on their websites they have a commitment to “protect civil liberties and privacy of American citizens.” Did the government honor that commitment in the way it treated Arthur?
One of the frequent criticisms of the fusion centers is that there is little to no oversight to make sure the fusion centers are respecting civil liberties and privacy rights. Who is watching the watchers? Expecting them to self-police is a bit like letting the fox guard the hen house.
Of course, those with wisdom knew after 9/11 that the new surveillance state erected by Congress and the Bush administration could, and likely would, one day be turned away from the Islamic terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 and used against the patriotic, law-abiding Americans they were meant to protect.
Leo Hohmann is a veteran journalist and author of the 2017 book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad.” If you appreciate this type of original, fact-based and independent reporting, please consider a donation of any size to this website. We accept no advertising and are beholden to no one.