Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 15, 2009

And Chairman Thompson requests more from Secretary Napolitano

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on April 15, 2009

Shortly before 2:00 pm (eastern) Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, released a letter to Secretary Napolitano (access the pdf version of the letter).  The Chairman raises serious questions regarding the recently leaked DHS intelligence assessment (see two posts immediately below).  One phrase best captures the tone of the letter, the Chairman writes, “I am dumbfounded that I&A released this report.” 

Best to read the entire missive.

SECOND UPDATE:  In a story filed early Thursday afternoon, the APs Eileen Sullivan writes, “The senior Democrat of the House committee with oversight of the department said the most recent report raises privacy and civil liberty issues. “This report appears to have blurred the line between violent belief, which is constitutionally protected, and violent action, which is not,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote in a letter to Napolitano.”

UPDATED HEADLINES (as of 6:00 am eastern on Thursday)

Associated Press: Republicans criticize report on right-wing groups

San Francisco Chronicle: Homeland insecurity

Fox News: Chorus of protest grows over report warning of right wing radicalization

US News and World Report: the new McCarthyism: DHS reports on right-wing extremism

AFP: US govt faces veteran anger at extremism report

The vast majority of media and blog reports are highlighting a partisan divide in reaction to the I&A assessment.  This is inconsistent with what I am hearing.  The vast majority of those commenting on the report – Republican, Democrat, and otherwise – are blasting it.  No one  has raised more serious questions than the Democrat from Mississippi, Mr. Thompson.  Read his letter

Last night my Email queue filled up with complaints from full-time, professional Democrats that found my more ambivalent critique of the report (see below)  “troublesome,” “dangerous,” “short-sighted,” and otherwise unacceptable.  A couple of “tory” Republicans were the only specifically partisan correspondents who wrote to support my argument.

Despite  broad bipartisan consensus regarding this issue  on Thursday morning it is hard to find media attention to critiques by Democrats.  Kudos to Audrey Hudson at the Washington Times for her story: Top Dem ‘dumbfounded’ by ‘extremism’ report.

The administration – that happens to be Democratic – is attempting to defend the report.  But the buzzsaw of criticism is coming from all corners.  It is not helpful –  it is especially unhelpful – to emphasize a partisan divide where it does not exist.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 15, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

Is this Kabuki or Noh DC version? Hey, the oath as I remember is to protect against all enemies foreign and domestic is it not? What does that oath really mean in our Constitutional framework? A Committee on UnAmerican Activities? A McCarthy clone? The MI-5 and MI-6 distinction between investigation and reporting and investigation and criminal justice seems to be a sound one. Let’s just move the FBI to DHS and let it be worked out. Also the DEA! Seems to me that too many personnel security clearance files used to list in bold membership in groups like Greenpeace as derogatory information. Well Greenpeace did have a wing/unit that advocated violent disruption of certain government activity! And actually did it but largely not a threat to National Security except for French bomb testing (IMO). So where does this lead? Lincoln and Jefferson used the term “Firebell in the night” to refer to slavery. Advocates of violent overthrow and those who took action, e.g. John Brown were treated as treasonable criminals and hung. Okay so its a big bad world out there and some domestic groups not so very nice. I really think this might be the time for sorting out where advocacy of violence starts and stops and violent activity starts and stops. Let’s impanel a distinguished group of knowledgeable Constitutional scholars and interested experts and really try to sort out what we need to protect our Constitution and democracy (Republic) before sending it to the criminal justice system. I think this whole area needs a proper vetting so that emotional reactions like Rep.Thompson (if that is what it is?) take over. DHS is a big organization and the best part of the letter is asking for procedures relating to release of Official Use Only documents. Probably a leak but a useful test of DHS ability to handle a PR problem that it created. Is this gibberish? Probably yes but concerned that huge DHS issues lurk while this one consumes time of all concerned with no real payoff for citizen joe or the Homeland Security as a function not as an organization.

Comment by Arnold

April 15, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

“I am dumbfounded that I&A released this report.”

By that does he mean that it should it have been for purely internal DHS consumption?

Otherwise, if it was sent to ______ (fill in the number–I’m guessing easily in the hundreds) local and state police organizations how could it not “leak?” Someone who disagreed with it could easily just forward it to whatever media organization first released it.

The questions should center around quality and use. What products are genuinely useful for locals and how best to pulse the system to remain vigilant for all potential threats.

Part of the problem is that while experienced IC folks (and others) may deride the quality, the consumers for I&A product are of a different and varied type than for traditional intelligence products. So what can usefully be produced and disseminated on an unclassified basis?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 15, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

Perhaps responsive to both Mr. Cumming and Arnold, the phone calls and emails that have concerned me most since my morning post are those from DHS insiders who indicate I have read too much between the lines of the assessment.

These friends and others say that many of the students in my high school term paper class have not been doing their research. They are not citing evidence because they don’t have any. Some – not all – of those who have called, agree that credible evidence exists, even extending to reasonable suspicion and criminal predicate. But they say the evidentiary weakness of the I&A assessment is the result of no sources, rather than protecting sources.

I don’t know and finding out is beyond the ability of this blogger. But if the insiders’ critique is accurate it adds another cause for concern. I like Arnold’s point that an intelligence product should be written with the consumer in mind. That could support some of the editorial choices reflected in the assessment. But fundamental to any intelligence product is the validity and/or reliability of the information. This, these professionals with credible-cause-to-know, suggest was not the case with this product.

Some New Information as of Thursday Afternoon

The Associated Press passes along the following:

“In February, the department issued a similar warning about possible cyber attacks from left wing extremists. In September, the agency reported that right wing extremists over the past five years had used the immigration debate as a recruiting tool. Since September, the agency issued at least four reports on individual extremist groups such as Hammerskin Nation, a skinhead organization.
In the September 26, 2008 Hammerskin assessment, the agency says that a number of the group’s members have received “extensive military training” and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report said the veterans have the training needed to building large scale bombs, like the type used in the Oklahoma City bombing.”

The Anti-Defamation League provides a profile of the Hammerskin Nation at http://www.adl.org/Learn/Ext_US/Hammerskin.asp
The Southern Poverty Law Center has an old profile of the Hammerskin Nation at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=310

You can also google “Hammerskin Nation” and access their website directly. I would prefer not to have a ping-back to hlswatch.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

April 16, 2009 @ 5:23 am

While I have been quite interested in bringing my concerns of “Mr. & Mrs. Citizen Joe” to DHS as an employee and following the process to achieve such stature to afford my willingness to bring my experience and understanding to DHS, I have noted subject bureaucracy which seems to thwart my willingness (and others) to bring both professional and – street smarts – to DHS and to our government at large who we have entrusted so dearly with the heartbeat of this grand Republic only to find such as an example so noted in this issue only depicting once again a government which is so out of touch – enraging more and more as beltway insiders are wearing their beltway blinders pervaded with arrogance and self-agenda it seems more often than not….remiss in their pledge to this Republic and the best interests of the majority!

We are so fortunate to have this public website and the professionals who make subject comments and allow us here on the street to know of some of the insider dopes which provoke our response out here as saying –

“Let everyone know, (We) expect this issue and any other to be sorted out quickly and no time wasted for we have enemies within lurking about ready to pounce and any sign of weakness in any organization and particularly within DHS HQ or clarity in purpose will not bode well for you and especially us who are becoming unemployed by the thousands daily and very concerned that while intentional and government-sponsored hackers are not only focusing on our infrastucture, but the skies above and our access to tropps on the ground and we here on Main Street USA, while a good and most charitable people, are a rather enlightened and realistic folk who do not trust AQ or the sleeper cells coming over our southern border especially and now coupled with this internal problem, at least Bob and Sue next door with the kids and dog and now “pink slip in hand” are becoming less and less trustful of a government that is portraying such absurdity and lack of trust –

Get on with the job and retribution to those who choose to tarnish the commitment of the good and experienced NSA, FBI, DHS, FEMA and other agencies that toil night and day to protect us here on the street –

Be vigilant for many seek our demise and to excel, we need a “team effort” yesterday with harmony and the prerequisite requirements full understood with ramifications for anyone serving less at any level to be dealt with quickly and accordingly –

Let’s get on with business – We are very worried for we see a government printing trillions of “fiat” dollars to starve off inflation and we cannot seem to establish and address the immediate need for civil defense requirements and other pertinent real concerns of the day! Enough is enough! This is the real world – get over yourselves for we all have our graduate degrees and our PHD’s and most of us are quite experienced and savvy enough to understand the consequences so get it together and let’s press forward with harmony and a mutual intent to serve us and our great nation – please do not be foolhearty as the pols on both sides of the aisle for I have walked the streets from Asia to the Middle East and live on Main Street USA and (we) understand what the consequences are for the clock is ticking!

Christopher Tingus
“Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen”
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by anon

April 16, 2009 @ 8:59 am

This “report” seems all just a bit strange. What has changed recently to make this “new”? McVeigh wasn’t the only person in the 90’s, read about former Marine Captain, and EOD officer, Thomas Crawford. He was selling explosives and weapons until his arrest in 1997 and at one point threatened to blow up the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune. But why the sudden flurry of interest that might unecessarily tar others? Certainly poor message managment, even for the community this was directed to. While this has taken on a (political) life of its own now, I am still puzzled on why its being defended so rigorously.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 16, 2009 @ 11:03 am

Whether Kabuki, Noh, comedy, or modern tragedy there is something theatrical in many responses to the I&A assessment. As Anon notes, it all seems a bit strange… or perhaps strained.

Is this, at least in part, the raw defensiveness of identity politics? Is our nation of immigrants – after two or three (or more) generations of incessant mobility – devolving into contending tribes of ersatz identity: vets v. civs, fundamentalists, liberals (fuzzy headed or not), gays, straights, ivy league, NASCAR v. soccer, urban v. rural, whatever v. never before?

Essential to identity politics is a sense of victimization or oppression or some other perceived marginalization. So… when an authority — almost any authority — seems to suggest that someone in my tribe has done wrong, my sense of shared identity with my tribe mate makes me feel insulted or attacked, and I am tempted to respond in kind. The more fragile my sense of identity, the more often I may succumb to the temptation.

Classical theater — both Japanese and Greco-Roman — often plays with stereotypes. In those dramas the purpose was to reinforce common values for the entire audience. In our modern political theater stereotypes are played to divide.

Comment by Arnold

April 16, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

Perhaps this report will serve as an anti-“Battle of Dorking” and either begin to push the domestic surveillance/intelligence pendulum back in the other direction or stimulate a real national conversation about what level of domestic intelligence we as a nation are comfortable.

Comment by Arnold

April 16, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

One more note: it is interesting that in 2005 Bennie Thompson was the Ranking Member on a report put out by the House Homeland Security Committee that had as one of its recommendations:

“DHS must reassess the threat posed by right-wing domestic terrorists and revise its long-term planning to address this risk.”

The report is called “10 Years After the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Department of Homeland Security Must Do More to Fight Right Wing Domestic Terrorists,”

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 17, 2009 @ 9:12 am


I appreciate what you have written above, and in posts elsewhere, regarding the need to examine our preexisting orientation to domestic information gathering and sharing (right now purposefully avoiding the word “intelligence”). This does not mean we will obviously end up somewhere different, but external conditions are sufficiently dynamic to justify as open-minded a reexamination as possible. Are you aware of any forum where such a rigorous (and risk-taking) conversation is underway?

Pingback by Welcome New Readers | Homeland Security Watch

April 18, 2009 @ 6:33 am

[…] We do not — yet — do enough of this.  A small example emerged this last week, please see the discussion here.  But we can do a better job of listening to one another and offering our individual insights.  […]

Comment by Arnold

April 20, 2009 @ 12:08 am

Unfortunately no, I do not know of any such forum. And I would also bet that we would most likely not end up at a such a drastically different place structurally if such a thing did take place.

Though I would also wager that such reports as this right-wing group analysis would not cause such a fuss if it had taken place. Similar, though much less effective, push back took place within the Islamic and and left wing communities when what they deemed as overreach occurred with surveillance of mosques and local and state police infiltration of anti-war and other seemingly non-violent groups.

To be clear, I have nothing against fusion centers, the NYPD intelligence or counter-terrorism division, or any other similar efforts. And I believe there is a continuing threat from what is generally referred to as Islamic, eco-terrorist, and right-wing groups.

But cases of overreach by NYPD before the Republican convention in that city and State Police officials in Maryland just underline for me the potential for abuse of structures that in their general description most U.S. citizens would not contest. But now a similar eye is turned towards another group in our society and it is found to be distasteful.

While one should argue that the product needs to be improved, the actually existence of such a report should not be a shock to those who approved or turned a blind eye to previous examples of domestic information gathering. If this most recent report makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why and what should be done–for all citizens and not just those who hold a more conservative or right wing ideology, or any belief system that you hold or are sympathetic.

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