SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A U.S. Senate report released Wednesday found questionable purchases at a state-operated anti-terrorism center in San Diego, including 55 flat-screen televisions that authorities defended as necessary for watching the news.
The criticism of the purchases at the so-called "fusion center" in San Diego was contained in a report that found massive spending leading to few results in a nationwide anti-terror program established after the 2001 terror attacks.
The San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center is one of four regional interagency information-sharing centers created in California. The others are in Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Officials in San Diego spent $25,000 on surveillance equipment, including two "shirt-button cameras," according to the report's review of five such centers scattered around the nation. Much of the high-tech equipment was so complicated that the devices were exchanged for equipment that was easier to use, including cameras hidden in hats and water bottles.
They were purchased "despite the fact that federal guidelines for fusion center key capabilities do not include covert or surreptitious intelligence gathering," the report says, although it notes the purchases were allowed under federal guidelines.
A former director of the San Diego center lost his job after spending nearly $75,000 on the flat-screen televisions.
The TVs were supposed to be used for an intelligence training program that was never purchased. Instead, they were used to display calendars and for what officials initially described as "open-source monitoring."
When the Senate subcommittee asked for a definition, officials said they meant "watching the news." They told the subcommittee they viewed the television purchase as "a huge mistake."
The San Diego center also spent nearly $200,000 on 116 computers and monitors, although it had only 80 employees assigned by various law enforcement agencies to work at the center. The officials said some of the equipment was used by law enforcement officers in other locations to access information from the fusion center.
Mike Dayton, undersecretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, said his staff will examine the report.
The agency funds the fusion centers with federal money and oversees the California State Threat Assessment Center in Sacramento that coordinates them. It also serves as the liaison between the centers and the federal government.
"We want to make sure the money is spent wisely and efficiently for the purposes of protecting Californians," Dayton said.