The Maine Information and Analysis Center in Augusta was created in 2006 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks so that federal, state and tribal governments could share information about threats to public safety.
It’s tasked with collecting, analyzing and sharing intelligence between the federal government and the state. It also provides analytical and investigative support for crimes of a complex, organized or statewide nature.
Both the order signed by Gov. John Baldacci that created the center and its mission statement say that it also should “protect the liberties of the citizens of Maine.” But whether the center is fulfilling that part of its mission has been called into question by a Maine State Police trooper who worked there from early 2013 to mid-2018.
George Loder, 50, of Scarborough is suing the center alleging he was demoted after he told his bosses that MIAC was collecting and maintaining data illegally, including information about people who had applied to buy guns from firearms dealers, those who legally protested a proposed Central Maine Power Co. transmission line project and those who worked at a Maine international camp for Israeli and Arab teens.
It’s unclear why the center may have collected and stored this information. The Maine State Police and the Maine attorney general’s office refused to comment on the allegations.
Loder declined comment when a BDN reporter went to his home on Thursday evening, saying the reporter should speak to Cynthia Dill, his attorney. She declined comment earlier in the day.
The Maine intelligence center is one of 79 so-called fusion centers in the U.S. designed so that the government can share information. It is overseen by the Maine State Police and the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
Fusion centers have been criticized for years by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Maine chapter, but this is the first time Maine’s center has been sued in federal court.
“The ACLU has been sounding the alarm about fusion centers and their potential for abuse for years, including at [the center’s] inception,” Zach Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine, said Wednesday. “We urged the government to put a strict oversight regimen in place. … This underscores why it is so important for there to be rigorous oversight and safeguards whenever the government takes on the power to conduct surveillance.”
Beginning in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security began compiling annual reports on the nation’s fusion centers. The performance capstones include: privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections; intelligence and information products and services; strategic plans and budgets; communications policies and systems; and security policies and systems.
The annual reports available online do not give a center-by-center breakdown on how each met or did not meet that criteria.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee report in 2012 was highly critical of the effectiveness of fusion centers, but not for the reasons outlined in Loder’s lawsuit. Following a 13-month review from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the investigation found that information gathered by fusion centers was not shared in a timely manner and did not uncover any terrorist threats.
“[The Department of Homeland Security’s] involvement with fusion centers appeared not to have yielded timely, useful, terrorism-related intelligence for the federal intelligence community,” the report stated.
The Maine Intelligence Analysis Center advisory board meets at least twice a year to review the center’s policies and procedures and to advise on matters pertaining to the “protection of civil liberties” by the center in its day-to-day operations, particularly regarding the collection and handling of information, according to information on the center’s website.
That board is made up of members of state and local law enforcement, the FBI, state and county emergency management personnel, the attorney general, the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, an attorney in private practice, a civilian and the head of security for Central Maine Power Co.
Requests for comments from board members were not immediately returned.
Maine Intelligence Analysis Center’s budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2020, is $694,000, according to the Legislature’s fiscal office.
About $100,000 of that is in federal funds that come through Maine Emergency Management Agency. Another $209,000 comes from the highway fund and the remaining $385,000, comes from the state’s general fund.
BDN writer Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.