On a recent night in Memphis, a patrol car rolled slowly through a parking lot in a run-down section of town. The military-grade infrared camera on its hood moved robotically from left to right, snapping digital images of one license plate after another and analyzing each almost instantly.
The vast majority of terrorism leads in the United States originate from confidential FBI sources and from the bureau's collaboration with federal intelligence agencies, which mainly work overseas. Occasionally a stop by a local police officer has sparked an investigation. Evidence comes from targeted FBI surveillance and undercover operations, not from information and analysis generated by state fusion centers about people acting suspiciously.
"It's really resource-inefficient," said Philip Mudd, a 20-year CIA counterterrorism expert and a top FBI national security official until he retired nine months ago. "If I were to have a dialogue with the country about this . . . it would be about not only how we chase the unknowns, but do you want to do suspicious activity reports across the country? . . . Anyone who is not at least suspected of doing something criminal should not be in a database."
Ramon Montijo has taught classes on terrorism and Islam to law enforcement officers all over the country.
"Alabama, Colorado, Vermont," said Montijo, a former Army Special Forces sergeant and Los Angeles Police Department investigator who is now a private security consultant. "California, Texas and Missouri," he continued.
What he tells them is always the same, he said: Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here.
"They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House - not on my watch!" he said. "My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders."
Like Montijo, Walid Shoebat, a onetime Muslim who converted to Christianity, also lectures to local police. He too believes that most Muslims seek to impose sharia law in the United States. To prevent this, he said in an interview, he warns officers that "you need to look at the entire pool of Muslims in a community."
When Shoebat spoke to the first annual South Dakota Fusion Center Conference in Sioux Falls this June, he told them to monitor Muslim student groups and local mosques and, if possible, tap their phones. "You can find out a lot of information that way," he said.
A book expanding on what Shoebat and Montijo believe has just been published by the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based neoconservative think tank. "Shariah: The Threat to America" describes what its authors call a "stealth jihad" that must be thwarted before it's too late.
The book's co-authors include such notables as former CIA director R. James Woolsey and former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, along with the center's director, a longtime activist. They write that most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for violent jihadists and that Muslims who practice sharia law seek to impose it in this country.
The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.
These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless. "It's like a garage in your house you keep throwing junk into until you can't park your car in it," says Michael Downing, deputy chief of counterterrorism and special operations for the Los Angeles Police Department.
This is happening because, after 9/11, local law enforcement groups did what every agency and private company did in Top Secret America: They followed the money.