First Amendment-protected activities of religious, educational, and advocacy groups threatened by new reportRichmond, VA – Following the Virginia Fusion Center’s publication of a controversial report assessing the threat of terrorism in Virginia, the ACLU is asking state legislators to review the laws governing the state and federally-funded operation. The March 2009 document is posted on the website http://cryptome.com (see direct link below).
The Fusion Center report refers to the state’s universities and colleges as “nodes for radicalization” and encourages law enforcement to monitor activities of educational and religious organizations in ways that are likely to chill the rights of free speech and association protected by the First Amendment.
“This is almost certainly an exaggerated assessment of the threat of terrorism in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Are there really fifty terrorist groups in Virginia, as the report says? And were there 400 encounters with al-Qa’ida in the state in 2007?”
“The report seems to find danger in every nook and cranny of Virginia and uses demographic generalizations to predict terrorist threats,” said Willis. “Hampton Roads, for example, is singled out as a breeding ground for extremism because it has a diverse population due to the presence of military bases, two historically black colleges, and Regent University.”
“Richmond has problems too,” added Willis. "According to the report, because it was the capital of the Confederacy, home to several universities, and has a high concentration of African-Americans, the city fosters the growth of extremist groups."
The federal government has facilitated the growth of a network of fusion centers since 9/11 to expand information collection and sharing practices among law enforcement agencies, the private sector and the intelligence community. The Department of Homeland Security says that as of February 2009 there are 58 fusion centers in the United States.
“The Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Fusion Center and is responsible for its oversight,” said Willis. “We are asking every General Assembly member to read this report and to make revisions in the law governing how the Center operates and how it will be accountable to the public in the future.”
In 2007, the ACLU released a report entitled, “ What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers?” which was updated last year. The report identifies specific concerns with fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and the excessive secrecy surrounding the centers.
The “2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment” (labeled “Virginia 2009 Terrorism Assessment LE Sensitive”) is located at: http://cryptome.info/cryptout.htm
To read the ACLU of Virginia’s analysis of the Virginia Fusion Center’s Report, go to: www.acluva.org/publications/VAFusionCenterSummary2009.pdf.
To read the ACLU’s report on fusion centers, go to: www.aclu.org/fusion.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, Office: (804) 644-8022