Remember back in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security warned (pdf) against the growth of homegrown terror arising from right-wing extremism? Remember how the howls of protest from the same right-wing politicians who dog-whistle the right-wing extremists into action were so loud that DHS took the report off its website and even disbanded the research unit that produced the report? Here’s Daryl Johnson, who headed the group at DHS that produced the report, talking in 2011:
When the right-wing report was leaked and people politicized it, my management got scared and thought DHS would be scaled back. It created an environment where my analysts and I couldn’t get our work done. DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.
Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism—whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” eco-terrorists, the whole gamut.
Finally, in February of this year, DHS finally got around to mentioning the right-wing terror threat again:
A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.
Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.
The Homeland Security report, produced in coordination with the FBI, counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.
In a jaw-dropping revelation, the CNN article on the report goes on to note that there may be as many as 300,000 adherents to the sovereign citizen extremist movement.
But it’s the white supremacists who now are in the spotlight thanks to the racist terrorism in Charleston last week. And the New York Times is driving that point home by citing a New America analysis of terror attacks in the US since 9/11:
In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.
But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.
The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.
When we go to the New America analysis, we see that half of the deaths from attacks termed jihadist came in a single attack, the one at Fort Hood. There are only seven entries on the list of jihadist attacks since 9/11. On the other hand, there are 19 entries on the right-wing attack list (and the biggest of those, the Oklahoma City bombing, was pre-9/11 and so is excluded from the list).
Despite the trillions spent and lives lost in fighting jihadists “over there” so that we won’t have to fight them here, the homegrown threat from angry white males is still stronger than the threat from jihadists inside the country. Just imagine the howls, though, should an extra 300,000 names of sovereign citizen adherents get added to the the Terrorist Screening Database. Meanwhile, panic buying of Confederate flags and guns continues. Angry white males are getting even angrier as they squirm under the spotlight.
I’m not really sure how Detroit is supposed to pursue an arts-based resurgence if the Department of Homeland Security maintains that it can seize any electronics along the nation’s borders — which extend 100 miles and therefore include the bulk of the population of Michigan
The Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights watchdog has concluded that travelers along the nation’s borders may have their electronics seized and the contents of those devices examined for any reason whatsoever — all in the name of national security.
The DHS, which secures the nation’s border, in 2009 announced that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy pertaining to electronic devices “within 120 days.” More than three years later, the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings.
“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” the executive summary said.
According to legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment — the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures — does not apply along the border. By the way, the government contends the Fourth-Amendment-Free Zone stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s actual border.
I mean, if I were a business of any kind I’d move outside of this 100-mile border zone to protect my company secrets. Though that would up-end a good deal of the US auto industry, which they can’t really afford.
This is absurd. The notion that the border exception would expose entire cities (San Diego and, I think, Miami, would be similarly exposed) to this kind of privacy invasion shows how absurd the contention is.
I’ll have plenty to say about the Pemanent Subcommittee on Investigation’s report on how terrible DHS’s fusion centers are. The short version: they’re nearly worthless and a big waste of money.
But since DHS is so crappy, it says something that they find the National Counterterrorism Center’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database to be equally crappy.
While reporting information on an individual who is listed in the TIDE database sounds significant, the Subcommittee found that DHS officials tended to be skeptical about the value of such reporting, because of concerns about the quality of data contained in TIDE.156
156 Although NCTC describes its TIDE database as holding information on the identities of known and suspected terrorists, DHS officials – who interacted with TIDE data on a daily basis, as they reviewed reporting not only from state and local law enforcement encounters but from encounters by DHS components – said they found otherwise. “Not everything in TIDE is KST,” DHS privacy official Ken Hunt told the Subcommittee, using a shorthand term for “known or suspected terrorist.”
“Would you buy a Ford?” one DHS Senior Reports Officer asked the Subcommittee staff during an interview, when he was asked how serious it was for someone to be a match to a TIDE record. “Ford Motor Company has a TIDE record.”
The report’s footnote goes on to describe how DHS’s crappy reporting and NCTC’s crappy reporting reinforced each other.
Ole Broughton headed Intelligence Oversight at I&A from September 2007 to January 2012. In an interview with the Subcommittee, Mr. Broughton expressed the concern DHS intelligence officials felt working with TIDE data. In one instance, Mr. Broughton recalled he “saw an individual’s two-year-old son [identified] in an HIR. He had a TIDE record.” Mr. Broughton believed part of the problem was that intelligence officials had routinely put information on “associates” of known or suspected terrorists into TIDE, without determining that that person would qualify as a known or suspected terrorist. “We had a lot of discussion regarding ‘associates’ in TIDE,” Mr. Broughton said.
Mark Collier, who served as a Senior Reports Officer and briefly as chief of the Reporting Branch, recalled another case. An HIR was drafted concerning an incident with a TIDE match, but the TIDE record was based on an FBI inquiry. Later on the FBI ended its inquiry and cleared the individual of any connection to terrorism – but because DHS had filed an HIR on the person, the individual’s record was kept active in TIDE.
This reinforcement process carried over into DHS reports that were quashed on First Amendment grounds. Repeatedly, fusion center staffers submitted reports on speech and religion related activities solely because there was some tie between them and TIDE.
One draft reported on a list of reading suggestions by a Muslim community group, “Ten Book Recommendations for Every Muslim.” The report noted that four of the titles were authored by individuals with records in a U.S. intelligence counterterrorism database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE).
Another cancelled draft HIR reported on a U.S. citizen visiting and giving a lecture at a mosque. The draft contained no derogatory information on the speaker, or the mosque, although it noted that the speaker was once the head of a U.S. Islamic school that had a record in the TIDE database. “There is concern,” the drafting officer wrote in his initial submission, “that [the subject’s] visit . . . could be to strengthen ties with the . . . mosque as well as to conduct fundraising and recruiting for the sake of foreign terrorist organizations.”
Now, as I said, a civil liberties and privacy review (which I’ll discuss at more length in a later post) quashed these particular reports because they recorded protected speech. But imagine how many similar reports remain in NCTC or FBI’s files, given that they have more leeway to record First Amendment protected activity?
Soon, we’ll have the entire marketing plan of Ford Motor Company in our terrorist databases.
I’ve started reading through J. Edgar Hoover’s files the reports a contractor developed for PA’s Department of Homeland Security that describe political activism as a terrorist threat; Governor Rendell has made them publicly available here. I’ll have more to say about them later (though feel free to add comments on them below).
But for the moment, I’d like to unpack the underlying premise.
The whole idea behind collecting this information and sharing it with private sector entities like oil drilling lobbyists arose as part of efforts to protect our critical infrastructure from terrorist attack after 9/11. US DHS describes the imperative to protect critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) this way:
Why is CIKR Protection Important?
- Attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident.
- Direct terrorist attacks and natural, manmade, or technological hazards could produce catastrophic losses in terms of human casualties, property destruction, and economic effects, as well as profound damage to public morale and confidence.
- Attacks using components of the nation’s CIKR as weapons of mass destruction could have even more devastating physical and psychological consequences.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 provides the primary authority for the overall homeland security mission. This act charged the Department of Homeland Security with primary responsibility for developing a comprehensive national plan to secure CIKR and recommend “the measures necessary to protect the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States.” This comprehensive plan is the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), published by the Department in June 2006. The NIPP provides the unifying structure for integrating a wide range of efforts for the protection of CIKR into a single national program.
And here’s what the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security considers critical infrastructure, which is how the ITRR organized the reports it gave to PA’s DHS:
So you see, because “attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident,” PA (and surely other states) are collecting information about the lawful political organizing of anti-drilling and animal welfare activists, among others.
And most of all, to our banking and finance system?
Just to take one example, who do you think is a greater risk to our oil and gas infrastructure? A bunch of hippie protesters trying to limit drilling in the Marcellus Shale and thereby protect the quality of their drinking water (which is, itself, considered critical infrastructure)? Or PG&E, which sat on knowledge of an extremely high risk pipeline for three years even after setting aside the money to fix it?
Three years ago, PG&E asked state regulators for permission to spend $4.87 million to replace a section of the pipeline associated with the pipe that exploded in San Bruno last Thursday. The 1.42-mile section that ran under South San Francisco, which is more heavily populated than San Bruno, was considered extremely high risk and in need to replacement. Last year, the utility company made a similar request to replace a larger section of the same pipeline, at a cost of $13 million. Rate increases were approved and the plan should have gone forward. Sadly, nothing was done and lives were lost.
The South San Francisco pipeline replacement project was dropped down on the priority list and the money allocated for the work was spent elsewhere. Many experts and laypersons alike are now asking, why didn’t PG&E replace pipes they knew to be extremely dangerous?
And while multiple layers of government make sure the PG&Es of the world know about those hippie protesters, they can’t be bothered to require the utilities or pipeline operators to actually return the favor by revealing where the pipelines at risk of explosion are.
In a letter sent Friday, the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, Paul Clanon, sought the location of each pipeline segment on the list as well as a “detailed description of the criteria PG&E uses in deciding which pipeline segments to characterize as high-priority projects.”
Clanon defended the delay in seeking the list, whose existence PG&E disclosed as early as 2007, saying the agency didn’t see the need for the information before. Just because a site is on the list doesn’t necessarily mean it is dangerous, he said, adding that it’s not his agency’s role “to run the day-by-day activities of the utility.”
Leave aside our wholesale neglect of these elements of critical infrastructure themselves–the crumbling of our pipelines and roads and financial system because neither the public nor the private sector want to spend the money and time to keep them together–and focus on the information gathering part of it.
Because terrorism is somehow a greater threat to our country than PG&E’s neglect or Wright County Egg’s negligence or Lehman’s greed, we collect and share information on hippies. But not on the pipelines that will explode of their own accord, with action from neither hippies nor terrorists.
Updated to fix typo, “Communities” instead of “Communications.”
Mark Hosenball reports that Dianne Feinstein and other Senate Dems have accused the Department of Homeland Security’s spooks of using right wing propaganda to develop finished intelligence reports on Muslims. By looking at this paragraph from last year’s intelligence authorization…
The Committee has raised a number of concerns with reports issued by the Department of Homeland Security OIA that inappropriately analyze the legitimate activities of U.S. persons. These reports raised fundamental questions about the mission of the OIA and often used certain questionable open source information as a basis of their conclusions. The Committee recommends that the next Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis conduct a comprehensive review of the quality and relevance of the intelligence products produced by the OIA, and provide this review to the congressional intelligence committees within 180 days of enactment.
And analyzing the language from this letter from Russ Feingold and Jay Rockefeller, Hosenball credibly argues that DHS used David Horowitz’ DiscoverTheNetworks.org as a source for a least one intelligence report on a US Islamic leader. (The letter cites the tagline, “identif[y] the individuals and organizations that make up the left,” a term Horowitz has used.)
Among others targeted by Horowitz’ site–though not all Islamic leaders–are Keith Ellison, Arianna Huffington, and Kos. And, ironically enough, Janet Napolitano.
Hosenball also notes that the report on the Islamic leader using Horowitz’ site was developed for DHS’s Civil Rights Office, and from there, was circulated to other intelligence agencies.
Congressional officials say the Homeland intelligence report that particularly angered Feinstein and other committee members is still classified. Nevertheless, three current and former intelligence officials, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, say the report in question is a profile of an unnamed but prominent American Islamic leader and was produced by Homeland Security’s intelligence office during the latter years of the Bush administration. The report was requested by the Department’s civil rights office, whose officials were preparing to meet with the Islamic leader. But instead of sending the civil rights office a quick bio of the individual in question, Homeland’s intelligence office issued a “finished” intel report that was circulated to other intelligence agencies and, eventually, to Congressional oversight committees.
In other words, Michael Chertoff was using the Civil Rights Office at DHS as the impetus to develop finished intelligence reports based on the First Amendment activities of Americans.
Remember the firestorm last year when wingnut groups learned DHS did a report–initiated by the Bush Administration–on right wing extremist groups?
The report, “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” said right-wing extremist groups may be using the recession and the election of the nation’s first African-American president to recruit members.
The report, which was prepared in coordination with the FBI, was published last week. It was distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement officials. Mainstream media picked up the story after it was reported by conservative bloggers.
I wonder if they’ll show the same alarm with this report?