Bill to allow terrorist data collection center to gather intelligence on ordinary crimes stricken from docket. Bill to lessen oversight of center amended.Richmond, VA – A House of Delegates subcommittee struck from its docket this morning a bill to authorize Virginia’s secretive Fusion Center to expand its scope from collecting information on terrorist threats to also collecting data on ordinary crimes.
The ACLU of Virginia opposed the bill, saying that a heavily criticized 2009 Fusion Center report that was leaked onto the Internet showed the agency was already exceeding its scope and that its analysis of data it had collected was unreliable.
That report--entitled “2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment”--concluded that the state’s colleges were “nodes of radicalization” and that areas with high concentrations of racial minorities were breeding grounds for terrorism. It also reported more than 400 encounters with al-Qa’ida in Virginia in a single year, although no examples were given.
The tendency of the report to stereotype and exaggerate alarmed then-Governor Tim Kaine, who ordered an investigation to be conducted into the Fusion Center’s operations. The results of that investigation were not announced to the public.
The Fusion Center expansion bill, HB 1953, was sponsored by Delegate Ronald A. Villanueva, with backing from the governor’s office. It was stricken by Subcommittee #3 of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. A similar bill, SB 918, was introduced by Senator Ryan T. McDougle. It has not yet been addressed by a legislative committee.
A second bill introduced by Del. Villanueva, HB 1948, sought to change the requirement for reviews of the Fusion Center’s operations from every year to once every five years. HB 1948 was amended by the same House Militia, Police and Public Safety Subcommittee to mandate reviews every three years. HB 1948 will likely be taken up by the full committee next week.
“We’re pleased that the subcommittee struck down this bill,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “With no indication that the Virginia Fusion Center does anything productive and with every indication it is inclined toward hyperbole and racial stereotyping, this is not the time to be expanding its operations.”
“The ACLU might feel differently about the expansion bill if we trusted the Fusion Center and we knew more about it,” added Willis. “But, thus far, the Center has resisted attempts to become more accountable to the public, and the one leaked report available to us is a sham.”
To read the ACLU of Virginia’s analysis of the Virginia Fusion Center’s Report, go to: http://www.acluva.org/publications/VAFusionCenterSummary2009.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022