First Amendment-protected activities of religious, educational, and advocacy groups threatened by new reportRichmond, VA – A recently published “terrorism threat assessment” from a Virginia fusion center says the state’s universities and colleges are “nodes for radicalization” and encourages law enforcement to monitor First Amendment-protected activities of educational and religious foundations as terrorism threats. The March 2009 document, which claims there are currently at least fifty active “terrorist and extremist” groups in Virginia, is posted on the website www.cryptome.com.
“The report seems to find danger in every nook and cranny of Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but especially college campuses. 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 and two historically black colleges.”
“ 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. There are currently 70 fusion centers in the United States.
“If we are to believe this exaggerated threat assessment, Virginia’s learning and religious institutions must be hotbeds of terrorist activity,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This document and its authors have displayed a fundamental disregard for our constitutional rights of free expression and association. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve seen such an indifference to these basic rights from local fusion centers. Congress must take the necessary steps to institute real and thorough oversight mechanisms at fusion centers before we reach a point where we are all considered potential suspects.”
The Virginia threat assessment comes on the heels of two recently publicized and troubling documents from Texas and Missouri fusion centers. From directing local police to investigate non-violent political activists and religious groups in Texas to advocating surveillance of third-party presidential candidate supporters in Missouri, there have been repeated and persistent disclosures of troubling memos and reports from local fusions centers.
“There is an appalling lack of oversight at these fusion centers and they are becoming – as the ACLU has repeatedly warned – a breeding ground for overzealous police intelligence activities,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “The Virginia threat assessment isn’t just disturbing for encouraging police to treat education and religious practices with suspicion, it’s bad law enforcement. Lawmakers from all levels of government need to enact legislation to protect against these spying activities that threaten our democracy while doing nothing to improve security.”
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 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment is located at: http://cryptome.sabotage.org/
To read the ACLU’s report on fusion centers, go to: www.aclu.org/fusion.
To read the ACLU of Virginia’s analysis of the Virginia Fusion Center’s Report, go to: www.acluva.org/publications/VAFusionCenterSummary2009.pdf.
CONTACT: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, (804) 644-8022