On Easter Sunday, April 12 Steve Gordon posted to The Liberty Papers with the headline, “Homeland Security document targets most conservatives and libertarians in the country.” Linked to the post was a 9 page pdf with the DHS logo and every appearance of being an assessment by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
Early Monday morning Mr. Gordon’s post appeared in my research collection, algorithmically gathered over night. Based on format, language, and analytical approach I was reasonably confident the assessment was an authentic I&A product. I posted a quote and link, but left the issue of authenticity open. Mr. Gordon noted my ping-back and implied endorsement. He linked HLSwatch to his post. Hits to this blog began to spike.
Overnight Monday the Washington Times confirmed the document’s DHS provenance. Tuesday morning Fox News began reporting the story. Yesterday afternoon NBC and MSNBC joined the chorus. By Tuesday evening the Sunday shower had become a flood of mainstream coverage including Politico, USAToday, Rolling Stone, Rush Limbaugh, and CNN. At 4:00 am (eastern) this morning the story is third on CNNs “most viewed” list. The blogosphere’s attention is even more torrential. Hits to HLSwatch have surged.
Comments on the report – from both political left and right – have been consistently critical. “The American Legion on Tuesday criticized a new Homeland Security report as unfairly stereotyping veterans by suggesting that some soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could be recruited by right-wing extremists to participate in violent actions,” the Washington Times reported.
At Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson writes, “But DHS in this report goes several steps beyond what could be defended as reasonable heads up to law enforcement. In a play right out of the Bush handbook, DHS cites a troubling rise in unspecified ‘Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet’ which the report says, ‘continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures.’ OMG. Presumably DHS is also making up a Wanted poster for Paul Krugman.”
Isn’t it great when we can all — left to right — agree on something? Sorry to squash this special moment , but I advocate more and better such assessments very publicly shared.
In my judgment the nine page report is overly condensed, conditional and offers what too often reads like conjecture when evidence is readily available. The problem is not with what is reported, but with the paucity of analytical argument for what is reported.
Following is the element of the report about which the American Legion has complained and regarding which the White House has commented. The report’s headline for this section is “Disgruntled Military Veterans.”
(U//FOUO) DHS/I&A assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists—including lone wolves or small terrorist cells—to carry out violence. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremistgroups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.
— (U) After Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, some returning military veterans—including Timothy McVeigh—joined or associated with rightwing extremist groups.
— (U) A prominent civil rights organization reported in 2006 that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.”
— (U//LES) The FBI noted in a 2008 report on the white supremacist movement that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.
Nothing in this brief section is untrue. Still, if teaching a high school research paper class, I would generously apply red pencil and note “insufficient evidence.” I know the evidence exists. Credible and persuasive evidence is already in the public record. Cite it.
Another problem with this part of the report — and the whole report — is signaled by the use of (U), (LES) and (FOUO) or Unclassified, Law Enforcement Sensitive, and For Official Use Only. These are the lowest levels of classification, but they represent an effort to veil the report from wide public distribution. It didn’t work. Often won’t work. And we can be glad for it. The single best way to ensure the strategic perspective of DHS is both accurate and constitutionally appropriate is for such strategic perspective to be made explicit and open to public discussion. (A prior post is potentially relevant.)
This particular assessment has greater value precisely because of the public discussion it’s distribution has now prompted. The document is clearly intended to offer the busy law enforcement officer a quick (probably too quick) and broad (probably too broad) environmental assessment. No specific individual or particular group — unless legally convicted (e.g. Timothy McVeigh) — is referenced. No privacy rights are invaded. Strategic awareness is encouraged. Such awareness is even more likely now that it is a topic of public discussion. Misuse of this awareness is much less likely because of public discussion.
The greatest harm emerging from this assessment may be if — in response to public controversy over the report — DHS decides to discontinue such reporting or attempts to better hide future reports.
I am a self-defined conservative libertarian. This is a rather exotic species. I can sometime feel threatened. But the very best means for preserving the habitat in which my species can thrive is an open, rational, and civil engagement with the issues facing the nation. DHS assessments can — should — contribute to public discussion and understanding.
Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices – to argue over them – and then the opportunity to choose. C. Wright Mills
UPDATE: Mid-day on Wednesday, some unfolding coverage: Michelle Malkin, ABC News, and Washington Post. The National Journal’s blogometer has a great overview of a wide range of blog posts. James Delingpole has posted an incisive piece with the Telegraph.