Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 15, 2009

DHS report confirmed and convicted, this blogger offers a dissent

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

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 PostThe 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.

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7 Comments »

Comment by Quark

April 15, 2009 @ 8:15 am

What concerns me most is this statement: “rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat.” Google “Terrorist training camps in the U.S.” and see who’s operating them. If DHS (and Congress) think the biggest threat is the rightwing, that implies they no nothing about Jihadist camps right here in America!?? How can we ask foreign countries like Pakistan to shut down their camps when we allow them to continue operating on our own soil? How can we call the “greatest” threat rightwing Americans when the report is full of speculation on what “may” or “could” increase recruitment, while Jihadist camps are operating in full swing across the nation?

I’ve written all of my representatives expressing my concern over the Islamic training camps. I suggest everyone reading this do the same. Our nation’s resources should be directed toward addressing known threats, not making up threats based on very, very poor evidence.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 15, 2009 @ 8:53 am

Great post! This from a self-identified fuzzy headed liberal. Labels and the governments use of labels is extremely important for anyone dealing with the government to understand. There is and has been historically tremendous disregard in the US and STATE and Local governments for quality academic research and analysis. In my opinion most research by various governments usually conducted by supervised contractors is not independent peer reviewed research yet is often used by various governmental units as the basis of policy choices or issue analysis. What could help is that each report released by any level of government indicated on its face the source of the report, whether paid for by government funds and if so how much, whether desseminated for review or so-called peer review, those involved in producing the report (remember disclosure often results in disclaimers being added that can be extremely important). The Obama Administration has argued for more “transparency” although not yet really implemented or defined. Time will tell how transparent the Administration really is for the average citizen and for interested citizens.

Agree with Quark comment above since in recent days it has been revealed that Jihadist use of domestic US servers is enormous. Other indicators are the continued use of churches of various kinds to foment strange doctrines and continue with federal tax exemption. Jefferson’ seperation of church and state was not without opposition. I see that as protection of the secular state allowing each of us to believe as it wishes. But I now argue that Stanley Surrey’s brilliant concept of “tax expenditures” meaning those areas of the economy that could be taxed but are not for policy reasons is highly valid. The problem is that the non-profit sector which I believe includes churches but may not is over 10% of the economy. Congress really never gives oversight to this sector of the economy as seems to believe that the “do good mission” is inherent in non-profit tax exempt status. I am principal in a NON-TAX EXEMPT corporate non-profit organized under Virginia law and I firmly believe that donations to tax exempt organizations really needs full review since the arguably appropriate $500K limitation on private sector orgs receiving TARP funds would also if applied to tax exempt organizations decapitate the income of many non-profit executives. Hey local governments often struggle with so many non-profits being tax exempt they cannot operate to do their jobs. So let’s start by saying NO nonprofits are exempt from local property taxes, limit incomes of CEO and key executives of non-profits and churchs and stop pretending all these organizations serve the public good. Why discuss this when the post deals with fringe groups because a review of the virtual version of IRS Publication 178 reveals many strange strange organizations are tax exempt. I argue that any religion that fails to renounce violence should NOT be tax exempt.

Comment by Craig W. Baldwin

April 16, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

Mr. Palin makes a bold statement challenging the intelligence community’s historical cultural norms involving over-classification and limited distribution of strategic assessments.

The capacity for individuals to instantly gain access to and globally distribute information is ubiquitous in our information-driven society. What is the reasonable expectation for maintaining secrecy? I would suggest there is little.

With increasing regularity there are news reports about “leaks” of sensitive information. In 2006 the CIA fired a trusted employee an “insider” named Marry McCarthy, who worked for the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, for providing a Washington Post news reporter with classified information about the secret detention centers in Eastern Europe. (Ironically, the reporter subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for that reporting).

The fallout from the revelation was global with a loss of respect and trust between the US and allies, old and new. The lesson here is that once classified information is shared—even inside a secure classified network among trusted agents—there is a strong risk that it will somehow jump the barrier and end up in the public domain.

What are the emerging risks inherent when information is controlled or shared? Which risks should be avoided, accepted, reduced or transferred? These are very difficult questions and in my opinion cannot be addressed using 20th century intelligence practices.

We all should acknowledge there is a new multi-ontological and epistemological (see Mr. Bellavita’s “It’s Nighttime In America” APR 16 posting to this blog) order emerging which should drive future information control and sharing policy and strategy development.

In the rapidly evolving global knowledge-driven network, secrets want to be revealed especially in a free and open society.

John F. Kennedy sensed that the ability to guard all secrets was fleeting. That the publics will to be informed and involved was a force to be recognized.

When addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961 he said,

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

There will always be a healthy tension between the need for affairs-of-state secrecy and the need to know by the public.

In the same address Kennedy acknowledged this tension existed during the critical years of the Cold War when he said,

“This deadly challenge imposes upon our society two requirements of direct concern both to the press and to the President–two requirements that may seem almost contradictory in tone, but which must be reconciled and fulfilled if we are to meet this national peril. I refer, first, to the need for a far greater public information; and, second, to the need for far greater official secrecy.”

Strategic debate and discourse on Homeland Security issues should be open to the public. Techniques, methods, tactics, and sources of intelligence may need to be guarded. However, the fear of secrecy will lessen when an involved public is informed of strategic intent.

Mr. Palin’s point is well taken and we should all consider the merits of public debate of strategic assessments.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 17, 2009 @ 7:36 am

Mr. Balwin’s comment is right on. Former Senator Monyihan’s book “Secrecy” revealed the depth of the problem. Now as identified by a distinguished panel led by retire 4-Star General Goodpaster and retired 3 star General Trefery that reviewed Secrecy issues and in particular personnel security issues for FEMA in 1992 (report available from FAS) it documented the manipulation and abuse of that system Director James Lee Witt (who led FEMA from April 1993-Janary 2001) used that report in part to reduce the necessity of personnel within FEMA needing a clearance by over 40% thus reducing “need-to-know” stove pipes and one of the reasons leading to his success in utilizing the full resources of the agency in disasters and emergencies. Time for EO 10450 issued by President Eisenhower to be reviewed and revised to prevent abuses in the system. Isn’t it interesting that some belt-way bandit mergers are in reality solely completed to obtain staff with clearances and contractors with the same. Talk about the TAX CODE creating economic difficulties who ever discusses the impact of personnel and document security on our economy. WE ARE NOT A NATIONAL SECURITY STATE!

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April 17, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

[...] Homeland Security Watch [...]

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May 5, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

[...] with the prior product, there is nothing in the report that does not appear in a college-level Terrorism 101 course.  [...]

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May 19, 2009 @ 4:22 am

[...] (A copy of the report and the context for it’s original release is available by accessing a prior HLSwatch post.) [...]

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