In 2010, after Faisal Shahzad was caught for trying to blow up a vehicle in New York’s Times Square, fusion centers examined their own systems to see if there were any relationships with intelligence they had related to Shahzad, said John Cohen, a senior advisor to the Homeland Security secretary.
Cohen said centers in Florida and Virginia discovered individuals who had connections to Shahzad but who were unknown to the FBI. The centers shared the information with FBI investigators, Cohen said, and that produced additional leads that are still under investigation.
But the example is one the congressional investigators condemn. ‘‘The information does not appear to have played any key role in the Shahzad case,’’ the report said.
Cohen also cited a 2011 case in Seattle in which two men approached someone in Seattle about purchasing weapons. The person they approached happened to be a police informant and reported the incident to his handler, Cohen said. The police handler was assigned to the local fusion center that was able to identify the two people who approached the informant, he said.
The fusion center did more analysis on the men, including digging into their criminal backgrounds, determined they might want to do more than just purchase firearms and handed the information over to the local FBI-led joint terrorism task force. The men were arrested and charged with plotting a terror attack on a military office in Seattle. While the subcommittee did not review this particular case, court records state that the men approached the police informant and were specific about their plans to attack a military office when they asked about obtaining weapons.
The recent Senate report is not the first time questions have been raised about civil liberties and privacy protections in fusion centers.
The centers have made headlines for circulating information about supporters of GOP presidential primary candidate Ron Paul, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.
The Obama administration has put policies in place and required that fusion centers have privacy and civil liberty policies in order to receive federal funding. But the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations continue to call for better privacy protections.
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report from Seattle.