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The North Central Texas Fusion Center is Collin County’s new criminal and intelligence data gathering center.
But, it may be gathering more criticism than acclaim as questions mount about how the million dollars to fund it are being spent.
Fusion centers began springing up after 9/11. Funded mostly by grants, they were fostered by the need for law enforcement to better share information.
Collin County’s North Central Fusion Center has drawn national attention, but not for its innovation. Instead, the spotlight is due to its questionable operations and relationships of the man who created the center…
The operator and architect is acclaimed computer scientist Dr. Bob Johnson, who works out of his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s also known as the son of local Congressman Sam Johnson.
Since 2004, Collin County has awarded Johnson $1.2 million to design and operate the center.
But some say Johnson’s mission has taken a sharp right turn away from computer science and towards political science, blurring the line between public protection and propaganda.
Last February, Johnson warned of “Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups” infiltrating organizations such as “The Council on American Islamic Relations.” He spoke of a growing Muslim influence in America, including “airport footbaths,” “public school prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim students” and “hip hop fashion boutiques” where terrorists go to recruit.
He also has warned of terrorists “operating in the North Central Texas region … meeting at smoke shops and other locations to organize and plan attacks.”
Johnson issued weekly “Prevention Awareness Bulletins” that featured “threat indicators.” When Homeland Security officials found out, they ordered him to stop. The American Civil Liberties Union said Johnson’s bulletins set off an immediate alarm.
“What we warned about, and now what we are seeing, is that too often these entities tend to look at people who disagree with public policies as potential terrorists,” said Mike German, with SCLU in Washington D.C.
Bill Baumbach’s Collin County Observer blog monitors local government business.
“And I thought it was one of the more bigoted, paranoid pieces I have ever seen on government stationery,” he said of the bulletins.
He was the first to raise questions about the Fusion Center’s operations and expenses. The Fusion Center’s 2004 start-up budget was $67,000. In 2005, the price tag jumped to a quarter of a million dollars. In 2006, the year the center actually opened, the costs dropped to $77,000.
But from there, Johnson’s billings grew to $368,000 in 2007.
Last year, Johnson billed Collin County nearly half a million dollars to maintain and add to the system.
Johnson said the budget has grown as the system improves.
“I wanted to see what it was about,” Baumbach said. “But what I found out was a bunch of politically-connected insider nepotism that was going on. The commissioner’s court was not paying attention.”
Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes may be the exception. He has questioned not only the expenses, but the ethics as well.
“I’ve probably been watching it closer than most because of my concern,” he said.
Among his concerns, Johnson’s awarding of a $100,000 sub-contract to a software firm called Bassham and Associates. It turns out the owner, Elbert Bassham, is Johnson’s brother-in law. Bassham’s business address is a post office box in Marfa, Texas. (More)