Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, governments at all levels were given almost unprecedented leeway to push the limits of privacy, all in the name of keeping Americans safe.

The last 14 years, however, have shown us that intelligence gathering without oversight invites wasteful spending at least, and the trampling of constitutional rights at worst.

That’s why it’s troubling that a secretive agency under the Maine State Police is operating so much in the dark, and apparently without much of any independent, open scrutiny.

The Maine Information and Analysis Center is a “fusion center,” one of nearly 80 state and metropolitan intelligence agencies funded largely by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Created by then-Gov. John Baldacci in 2006, the Maine center has been largely absent from the public eye, until the recent announcement by the Department of Public Safety that the center would be analyzing arrest and overdose trends as part of the effort to curtail drug trafficking and abuse.

Fusion centers were set up nationwide in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Together, they received at least $461 million in federal funding last year.

The budgets, staffing and activities of fusion centers are not publicly available.

But a 2012 report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that the centers have not yielded significant useful information related to terrorism while spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, often on frivolous items.

What’s more, the report listed many occasions in which the centers infringed on the First Amendment rights of innocent people, often Muslims or political activists.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the centers are mining the data of private citizens and overstepping the boundaries between law enforcement and military activities.

Despite this and similar reports, the Department of Homeland Security has resisted attempts at independent oversight.

There’s no proof that anything untoward is going on at the Maine fusion center. But then again, there’s not much public information about the center at all.

The agency is overseen by the Maine State Police, but who makes up the 12-member staff and what they do have not been disclosed.

The Legislature does not appear to have any power over the intelligence-gathering unit, and a three-member oversight panel hasn’t met in years.

At its last meeting, the advisory panel provided state police with a list of recommendations pertaining to overseeing the Maine Information and Analysis Center. There was no response. State police say the panel is not necessary anymore, as state and federal guidelines and auditing have taken over that role.

But as the fusion center prepares to play a critical part in fighting the state’s growing drug problem, it’s important Maine residents know that this oversight is sufficient.

After all the failings, misappropriations and intrusions of the last decade and a half, ordinary citizens cannot afford to take the intelligence community at its word.


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