Essay Larry Bensky

Plague Journal #14: The Fusion Centers Are Probably Working Overtime

It’s not just that we have no idea what their work really is, we also don’t have a clue about how much it costs.

Larry Bensky, a long-time radio and print journalist. has been writing his “Journal of the Plague Year” since mid-March for the Anderson Valley Advertiser and Scheerpost. He welcomes your comments and suggestions: LBensky@igc.org

By Larry Bensky / Berkeley, June 22

The Fusion Centers were working overtime this past week. You probably didn’t know.  Reading daily newspapers wouldn’t have helped you.  Nor would listening to the radio or watching TV.   And unless you happen to have the internet-diving skills of an Edward Snowden or a Julian Assange (not to equate the two!) you can’t find out. So here’s some help.

There are dozens of Fusion Centers, at least one in every state and territory. They’re under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, that little regulated, multi-tentacled  government branch, created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  Personnel and budgets are secret.  On the Homeland Security home page, you can find the Fusion Centers’  mission:  To “serve as primary focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners. Located in states and major urban areas throughout the country, Fusion Centers are uniquely situated to empower front-line law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency service, public health and private sector security personnel to lawfully gather and share threat-related information.”

Given the historical slippery slopes which “law enforcement, public safety,” et al,  have occupied in their long histories there is nothing to inspire confidence that they, and the Fusion Centers ostensibly helping them, will do the right thing in our present circumstance.  Which is not to say that individual human beings who staff them – police, firefighters, medical personnel – are anything but dedicated professionals whose valor has been abundantly proven these past few months.

New Jersey fusion center. Photo: Dept. of Homeland Security

While those professionals  are out there trying to save lives, what are the Fusion Center workers doing? And why is their work so oblique, and secretive? It’s not just that we have no idea what their work really is, we also don’t have a clue about how much it costs. Although we can assume  that super-agencies grafted on top of already largely impenetrable and untouchable other agencies can be expected to build expensive empires themselves. And then, consequently, impose a shortage of funds to help the most desperate and neglected people affected in crisis circumstances like the present.

You have to be a total Trumpoid and/or a total fool to think that the hundreds of thousands of people who continue to demonstrate against routine racism represent a “danger.” Looked at realistically, the present “danger” lies in the erratic behavior of the government that Trump perches on top of, day by day.

Michael Chertoff, former head of the Homeland Security Administration, architect of Muslim detention  in 2001 and cog in the dysfunctional G.W. Bush administration’s horrendous mishandling of  Hurricane Katrina horrors in 2005, spoke out this week, unexpectedly. Along with a couple of dozen other name-brand security people, Chertoff now says that demonstrations protesting the murder of George Floyd  aren’t dangerous. They don’t mean you “have to get into low flying helicopters, tear gas, and threats to bring in the military.”      

Things that happened not just in the D.C. streets.

Homeland Security and its Fusion Centers used its helicopters for “168 hours of protests in 13 cities, the largest of which was Detroit.”  Another was Grand Forks, North Dakota, not normally suspected as a base for subversives.

You gotta love what comes out of both sides of these ‘security” guys’ mouths! The ranking official of the Customs and Border Patrol in Grand Forks, David Fulcher, assured a gullible (or just lazy) N.Y. Times reporter, “We believe in peaceful protests.“ Moreover, “the technology is not there” for airborne surveillance to “identify faces, hair color or body types. Or to see if someone is carrying a backpack or a rifle.” 

In other words, mistakes will be made by these secretly resourced, unsupervised military/police people.  The result, which they don’t officially tabulate for you, is that hundreds have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere by joystick jiggerers in Florida or Colorado looking at screens that their agency wants us to believe are less detailed than the Google Earth views or Highway Patrol traffic cams we can access from our own computers.

There are well documented instances of what amounts to extrajudicial, extraterritorial violence, almost all of it by U.S. government and U.S. private security companies which both surveil from the air and sometimes impose on the ground. An exact total is difficult to establish.  But reading the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism website, it has to be in the hundreds, if not thousands of victims in the Bush-Clinton-Obama-Trump years.

Chertoff’s  letter mattered to those who write editorials in newspapers. But the images involved, including Trump’s absurd photo op, holding an upside-down Bible in front of a burned-out church near the White House, had much more resonance. And there was immediate measurable public opinion impact. Joe Biden doubled his polling lead over Trump to 9 percent, a record margin for a challenger to an incumbent at this stage of a presidential campaign. For the first time Biden also raised more money than Trump.

Was Chertoff merely fine-tuning his resume to appeal to what he assumes will be a Biden administration?  Was Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the only African-American senior official in the State Department, doing the same when she abruptly quit this week? A hard-line conservative whose first government job was in the office of troglodyte  Senator Mitch McConnell, Taylor had also managed legislative affairs and nominations for the White House.

Taylor’s resignation on Juneteenth came as the widespread on-line protest and resistance to Trump and Trumpishness continued to grow and Trump’s appeal continued to visibly shrink. Succeeding the Bible-waving of the previous week, this week brought the image of a two-thirds-empty indoor arena in Tulsa, where people in droves chose not to attend Trump’s campaign restart. Trump and his team had boasted ahead of time that over a million people intended to show up and even built an outdoor stage so the president could make some pre-speech remarks to an overflow crowd which never materialized; fire marshals estimated the actual turnout at 6200 which assuredly included any number of local officals and campaign workers all but required to attend.

(Comically, the Trump campaign seems to have been clueless to count their chickens, as a massive effort by Tik-Tok social media users and K-pop fans organized their large, mostly young followers to use their phone numbers to make free “reservations” to the event which they had no intent on attending. Trump was reportedly furious with his staff for this incompetence.)

One needs to remember, however, that even if Biden outsmarts and outfundraises Trump and wins by a margin similar to his present polling lead, it will mean that more than 60 million people will have voted for Trump. They are not a monolith, however. As was proven when thousands among them made the sensible decision not to turn out in Tulsa, where all responsible health officials had warned that an unmasked, tightly packed 19,000-seat arena was a public health disaster waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, an ongoing disaster happens daily in the African-American community, as it has since this country’s founding. Accidentally, tragically, it leaped to prominence in the horrifying  death of George Floyd. As of now, still five months away from election day, only 29 percent of people surveyed share Trump’s disdain for “Black Lives Matter” marches and rallies, which the Fusion Centers are now surveilling.

It was not worth losing George Floyd to get rid of Trump. But it increasingly seems Trump cannot escape the result of what is now destined to be a key moment in U.S. history. There is a dismal, infuriating history of police killing African-Americans, mostly men. This time, however, it was stark and unavoidable. Floyd wasn’t on an obscure dirt road in Afghanistan. He wasn’t in a marketplace in Yemen. He wasn’t in Somalia or Pakistan. He wasn’t executed by “security” troops, government and privatized, on the 38 bases the U.S. acknowledges having around the world. He wasn’t killed by supposedly “advanced lethal aid” of the kind we provide our military allies who in turn pursue their own strikes on civilians. He was killed by naked force, used by someone who had previously and abundantly displayed his unsuitability to wear the uniform he wore, while three other blue uniformed guys stood by and did nothing to try to save his life.

A lot can stlll happen concerning the November election. Including that election being chaotic and unfair, as we’re seeing this week in Kentucky. While the calendar creeps on, and  Trump isn’t finished yet. 

He continues to pack the Federal judiciary with zealots and bigots, most of them delusional “believers” in narrow, religion-based parameters of human value. (Occasional surprises like this week’s DACA and LGBTQ rights rulings should not be celebrated too fervently.) 

The judicial system is refusing to stop the misallocation of public funds to private interests, in key areas like education and health care. 

The judicial system is refusing to stop the dismantling of government agencies that protect the environment, and those of us who live in it.  

The judicial system continues to allow deportation of immigrants picked up on what one might call “suspicion of being suspicious.” Many immigrants are immediately deported, without even being tested for COVID-19. Their countries of origin, which in numerous cases they haven’t seen in decades, are poor, with limited health facilities. And as we now know just a few virus-bearing travelers can start another serious COVID-19 oubreak. 

The judicial system is poised to further restrict women’s reproductive rights.

The judicial system seems ready to allow brute force advocates like Attorney General William Barr to resume executions.  

And on climate change the battle to save the planet will be fought with the U.S. government on the sidelines.

 Unfortunately, the boundless cruelty of Trump’s minions is not limited to what happens to humans.  It’s exemplified in recent rulings about animals.  Among the Trump administration’s rules is an authorization to kill wolves and coyotes, including pups, during the season when mothers wean their young.  And a ruling allowing the baiting of bears, including nursing mothers. and using dogs to hunt and kill them. Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority under Trump.

It’s an issue championed by the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter. In February, as part of its annual convention, the Safari Club International, which promotes big-game hunting, auctioned a weeklong  “dream hunt” through Alaska with the president’s son. “This change is all about appeasing trophy hunters” writes Timothy Egan in a follow up NY Times Opinion piece:

“Well, one trophy hunter — Donald Trump Jr. You may have heard the recent report that taxpayers spent $75,000 for junior to hunt and kill a rare argali sheep in Mongolia last year while in the secure silo of the Secret Service.  Trump Jr. is a hunter of privilege, jetting into an exotic locale, getting special treatment from the local government and a permit issued retroactively, using the best guides and equipment. This package was completed by an Instagram posts from the entitled First Family rich kid.  He’s in camo atop a horse in Mongolia. He snuffed the life from that magnificent animal, a species threatened with extinction and the largest sheep in the world, using a laser-guided rifle that allowed him to hunt at night.”

[To read previous entry of the “Journal of the Plague Year” click here]

Larry Bensky
Larry Bensky

Larry Bensky is a literary and political journalist with experience in both print and broadcast media, as well as a teacher and political activist. He is known for his work with Pacifica Radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, and for the nationally-broadcast hearings he anchored for the Pacifica network

Copyright 2020 Larry Bensky

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