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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Anti-terror center moves information, raises questions

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – In the harried moments after the Interstate 35W bridge disaster, Mike Bosacker and his team helped quell one fear by quickly dispelling the idea it was the work of terrorists.

Bosacker is part of the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center in Minneapolis, a bureaucratic name for a modern-era setup meant to speed key information in the hands of law enforcement. Soon after the 35W bridge collapsed this summer, Bosacker said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent MNJAC video that helped investigators downplay the possibility of terrorism.

More than 40 such centers sprang up around the country after the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks.

“The criticism before 9/11 was that nobody was sharing information,” said special agent Paul McCabe, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Minneapolis office.

“The feds weren’t sharing with the locals. The CIA wasn’t sharing with the FBI. The FBI wasn’t sharing with anyone. And (fusion centers) is one way of getting the information out there, disseminating information.”

Next year, MNJAC is expected to seek funding from state taxpayers for the first time. Additionally, the center could come into play when the Twin Cities plays host to the Republican National Convention.

But the center isn’t without skeptics.

Some legislators and data privacy experts have raised concerns of privacy violations and unwarranted domestic spying.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, is among those with concerns about what kind of data the center is storing.

“I need to make sure that there is an audit trail to find who has access to the database and what they do with it,” Holberg said.

Bosacker has a ready response to those who question the center’s mission and tactics.

“We’re not trying to keep books on people who are not engaged in crime,” he said. “But we also have an obligation to protect people from criminal behavior, and that’s what this is about.”

The so-called fusion center receives and relays information. For example, it issued alerts after the 2005 London subway bombings, telling local law enforcement, military and agencies that monitor critical infrastructure about what to watch for in similar attacks.

A July report from the Congressional Research Service said the fusion centers “represent a fundamental change in the philosophy toward homeland defense and law enforcement,” which it calls “a more proactive approach.”

Don Gemberling, a retired information analyst for Minnesota government, said a primary worry is the potential for abuse and errors, including putting the names of people in the information systems who may not belong there, and having a lack of transparency.

“People can’t find out that they are in the database, they can’t do anything if something happens to them because they think they are in the database,” Gemberling said.

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