Shining a Light on New Jersey’s Secret State Intelligence System

Civil liberties in the United States have been eroding for over two decades. Under the auspices of national security, federal agencies working with their state counterparts have built an expansive homeland security apparatus, facilitated by laws granting national security officials broader  surveillance and investigative authorities. Prior to the attempted insurrection of January 6, 2021, national security powers nearly exclusively targeted Muslim and Arab communities – with many South Asian communities targeted in the immediate wake of 9/11 as well. At the same time, these powers have also furthered the mass incarceration of African American communities.

The most invasive, and simultaneously secret, post-9/11 tool has been state fusion centers. Fusion centers coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement through complex intelligence-gathering systems that retain, analyze, synthesize, and distribute data – with minimal oversight. They have become institutionalized within the American law enforcement framework post-9/11 despite little, if any, tangible results to show for their intended original purpose: preventing terrorism. New Jersey’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center is a prime example of expansive over-policing that targets marginalized communities fueled by the red herring of national security concerns – while much of its work remains opaque and inscrutable.

Shining a Light on New Jersey’s Secret State Intelligence System examines New Jersey law enforcement’s unique use of CIA-style intelligence-gathering, some of its known harms in certain, well-documented instances like the City of Camden, and the Kafkaesque legal regime that works to keep vast amounts of public information out of the public eye.

Three recommendations for New Jersey policymakers would help reign in these unaccountable drivers of mass incarceration and allay concerns that civil liberties are not still on the chopping block for Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and African American communities in the Garden State:

  1. Governor Murphy should appoint an ombudsman to oversee New Jersey’s intelligence system. The mechanism for this appointment already exists by way of a long-ago issued executive order – but has never been used. This ombudsman should have the authority to oversee the ROIC’s activities in collaboration with minority communities most impacted by surveillance.
  2. The New Jersey legislature should mandate regular reporting by the Chief Intelligence Director to ensure that the state’s domestic intelligence-gathering apparatus is focusing on actual terrorist threats while preserving civil liberties for all.
  3. Civil society should conduct a People’s Audit of the fusion center to determine the privacy impact on New Jersey’s diverse populations.

To read the full report, click here.

Read the Press Release announcing publication of Shining a Light on New Jersey’s Secret Intelligence System here.