Representatives of districts across Kansas are returning home from Topeka following the two-day Kansas Safe and Prepared Schools Conference sponsored by four state agencies. A fifth agency — Kansas Homeland Security — appeared as a sponsor on the advance flyer but was not listed in the conference program.
The conference took place Monday, Sept. 26, and Tuesday, Sept. 27. During Breakout Session B on Monday morning, attendees had the option of learning about eight different topics, one of which was “Kansas Intelligence Fusion Centers.” The presenter of that session was Jeremy Jackson, who is affiliated with the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center (KIFC) and the Office of the Kansas Attorney General. Other breakout sessions included “Bullying Prevention,” “Coaching Boys Into Men” and “Emergency Preparedness: The Role of the School Nurse.”
According to the conference program, Jackson in his fusion center presentation planned to “cover the design and operation of the KIFC, and will examine opportunities for schools to participate in and benefit from the center’s intelligence analysis and information sharing capabilities through the involvement of Kansas Center for Safe and Prepared Schools.”
The KIFC would like to collaborate with districts to gather and share information on agricultural, biological, cyber, infrastructure, pandemic disease and terrorism threats.
According to a background paper prepared by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), fusion centers like the one in Kansas are “designed to pool and analyze information from federal, state, and local sources, in an effort to get vital information to the police officers who every day patrol the home front of the ‘war on terror.’” The paper adds that although “experts applaud efforts to have better informed police officers, some civil libertarians worry about the collection and use of such information.”
State fusion centers focus on gathering information to prevent crime including — but not limited to — terrorism, according to the Council on Foreign Relations background paper. One reason for not isolating intelligence is because other sorts of crimes often finance terrorism. Fusion centers also can use their resources in coordinating responses to disasters and public emergencies.
In order to illustrate how such an emergency response might work, the paper’s author provides a hypothetical example of a school shooting. Staff members in a fusion center’s support room — such as the one pictured at the top of this page — “could simultaneously project live aerial footage, building blueprints, and hospital locations onto its thirty-two foot screen. Dispatchers can then easily pass this information along to responders on the scene.”
Although the Council on Foreign Relations background paper presents a school shooting as its hypothetical example, such an emergency is unlikely. Statistics from the University of Virginia’s Youth Violence Project show that even though the public perception is that schools are violent places, the number of homicides in schools has been declining, and students are more at risk at home and in their communities than they are in school.
One of the critics of state fusion centers — including the one in Kansas — is the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU representatives have testified before U.S. Congressional Committees regarding their concerns.
“If the federal government announced it was creating a new domestic intelligence agency made up of over 800,000 operatives dispersed throughout every American city and town, filing reports on even the most common everyday behaviors, Americans would revolt,” former FBI agent Mike German and Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley wrote in the ACLU’s 2008 Fusion Center Update.
Yet that is what the state fusion centers are doing, according to the ACLU, which is concerned about violations of Americans’ privacy rights. The civil liberties organization voices concerns that the need to coordinate intelligence — especially since 9/11 — may have led to abuses of government authority. According to the ACLU’s 2007 report, What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers – Executive Summary, particular concerns include:
- Ambiguous Lines of Authority. The participation of agencies from multiple jurisdictions in fusion centers allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of “policy shopping.”
- Private Sector Participation. Fusion centers are incorporating private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, breaking down the arm’s length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies, and increasing the risk of a data breach.
- Military Participation. Fusion centers are involving military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
- Data Fusion = Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage whole sale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
- Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are hobbled by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt.
All school districts in the state belong to the Kansas Center for Safe and Prepared Schools, which was one of the sponsors of this week’s conference. The center is part of the Adjutant General’s Office, which is in charge of emergency and military preparedness in Kansas. The department also oversees Kansas Homeland Security.
This is the fourth year for the Kansas Safe and Prepared Schools Conference, which took place at Topeka’s Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center. The registration fee for this two-day professional development opportunity for school administrators, counselors, nurses, resource officers and other educators was only $25. Sponsors included the Kansas Attorney General, the Kansas Center for Safe and Prepared Schools, the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment and the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE). The event was so popular that the KSDE closed registration “due to full capacity.”
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