The Brennan Center for Justice released today a new report titled “National Security and Local Police.” They conducted surveys of more than a dozen major police departments and their affiliated state or city intelligence “fusion centers” (funded heavily by federal grants) and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (FBI-led interagency and intergovernmental coordination groups for terrorism investigations). The Brennan Center report documents patchworks of inconsistent rules and concludes that these counterterrorism systems are governed by standards that are too loose and oversight that is too weak.
I’ve written about some of these issues as challenges of “National Security Federalism in the Age of Terror”: that American government counterterrorism responsibilities and powers are distributed not only horizontally among branches of government and federal agencies but vertically among federal, state, and local governments. The recent NSA controversies focus attention on national-level intelligence programs. However, because counter-terrorism and policing are intertwined and because policing is a quintessentially state and local concern, I argue in that article (and the Brennan Center shows in this Report) that the reality is actually an “uneven, textured legal and policy landscape with regard to national security” in the United States.
The Brennan Center report concludes with recommendations for tightening standards to govern all state and local intelligence activities and improving transparency and oversight of them. I’ve been more sanguine than this report about some of the virtues of state and local variation in practices (see here a new essay, also published recently by the Brennan Center in a volume on domestic intelligence), but the findings in this report raise important concerns not only about protecting liberties but ensuring effectiveness of security measures.