CUYAHOGA COUNTY -- A congressional report released Wednesday blasts state and local counter-terrorism centers funded by millions of federal taxpayer dollars for producing "irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence" briefings.
The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also found that the so called "fusion centers" failed at its most basic task -- identifying terrorists plots in the United States.
It could not identify a single intelligence report from April 2009 to April 2010 that "uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot."
The subcommittee looked at more than 70 fusion centers, including the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center, which is run by Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Police.
Fusion centers are supposed to collect information from federal, state and local authorities, analyze it for leads to potential terrorist attacks and violent crimes, and then send intelligence briefings to police. But the report said that a 2010 assessment of the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center concluded that it was "all but completely incapable of functioning as a fusion center."
"The center is lacking in its ability to process, collate, or disseminate information," the report noted, quoting the 2010 assessment.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center was not alone.
The subcommittee found the intelligence reports issued by the fusion centers were "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."
A former Department of Homeland Security official told the subcommittee there were times when he thought "what a bunch of crap is coming through."
Sheriff Bob Reid, who runs the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center, said that it changed directors in July 2011 and that the new director "has done a lot of good things over that period of time."
"It's always very difficult when you're looking at intelligence gathering, checking those issues out and coming up with nothing," said Reid, who has not read the Senate subcomittee's report. "It's good to know that you're out there. You never know what you're going to be stumbling on."
The subcommittee also found fusion centers using federal grant money to buy flat-screen TVs, sports utility vehicles and button-hole undercover cameras when they lacked basic, "must-have" intelligence capabilities.
The report criticized the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center for spending more than $15,000 on rugged Toughbook laptop computers and then giving them to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office.
Questonable spending at the center was first exposed by the Investigator Tom Meyer in Februrary 2010. Meyer found that officials failed to explain how it spent $2 million in federal grants.
His investigation also found that most law enforcement agencies weren't even aware the Fusion Center existed and that it hired an administrator with a philosophy degree. That administrator has since been reassigned.
Hugh Shannon, the Medical Examiner's Office administrator, told the subcommittee that the laptops were for "processing human remains in the aftermath of a mass casualty event in the Cleveland area" -- even though there had never been such an event.
The subcommittee noted, however, that Shannon did not know "whether the laptops were able to connect and securely transmit information to the fusion center."