Is Homeland Security Wary About Reporting on Right-Wing Extremists?

Despite a recent upsurge in threats and violence by far-right groups and loners, the Homeland Security Department appears gun-shy about reporting or monitoring the trend too closely. Domestic security and counterterrorism officials say that even though, in light of recent events, a controversial report issued a year ago by Homeland Security about a "resurgence" in far-right radicalization and recruitment appears well informed, if not prescient, the Department has done nothing to re-issue the report or update it.

When its report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" first leaked to the media last year, the Homeland Security Department was slammed by conservative activists and pundits for even daring to address the issue. Blogger Michelle Malkin called the report a "hit job on conservatives," alleging it was "one of the most embarrassingly shoddy pieces of propaganda I'd ever read out of DHS. I couldn't believe it was real." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted, "The person who drafted the outrageous homeland security memo smearing veterans and conservatives should be fired," and the issue became major fodder for Fox News hosts.

Particularly upset by the report were veterans' groups, who expressed great irritation at a passage in the report stating that returning vets "possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to right-wing extremism"; the report added that Homeland Security's intelligence office was "concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities." The American Legion's chief sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blasting the report as "incomplete, and, I fear, politically biased," leading Napolitano to request an urgent meeting with the head of the veteran's group in order to honor Americans who had served in the military. While not formally withdrawing the report, Napolitano and other senior Homeland Security officials apologized for it, saying it was poorly written and not properly reviewed before it was issued. But as we reported here last year, Napolitano also indicated that the report would be "replaced or redone in a much more useful and much more precise fashion."

Napolitano has not followed through on that, however, even though recent news events—including the crashing of a plane into an IRS office in Texas by a tax protestor, a torrent of threats against cCongressional leaders, and the takedown of the bizarre but well-connected Hutaree militia (whose membership, as we noted here, included former U.S. military personnel)—have substantially vindicated Homeland Security's judgments of last year. Asked why the department hasn't updated the report or produced a fresh take on evidence about potentially threatening far-right activity, Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith told Declassified: "The recent arrests and incidents have provided local law enforcement on the front lines more than enough reminder to be vigilant to the threats from violent extremism."

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Homeland Security's intelligence office, which was created in 2003, is regarded as one of the department's weakest components. Intelligence professionals, who did not want to be named talking about deficiencies in the office, say it has an unclear mission—with little to no authority to collect information on anyone—and its main job appears to be to keep state and local cops, as well as transportation security agencies, apprised of looming threats. The weaknesses in the Homeland intelligence structure, and the conservative political attacks of last year, have left many department intelligence officials demoralized and wary of doing anything that could attract new political attacks, intelligence insiders say. Recently, Congress confirmed a veteran intel official, Caryn Wagner, as Homeland's new intelligence chief, but her expertise is said to be more in managing large organizations than in field operations or analysis.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted in a recent report that private contractors comprise 63 percent of Homeland Security's intelligence-office workforce; the report (see page 64) says that the department's current plan, to reduce the proportion of contractors to 50 percent by 2015, is "unacceptable." Feinstein told Declassified: "The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis was created to produce analysis on terrorist threats to the homeland and to serve as the link between the intelligence community and the homeland-security community. The Intelligence Committee has had concerns with its performance to date, and we intend to look carefully at the office as part of our review of the FY 2011 budget request."

Is Homeland Security Wary About Reporting on Right-Wing Extremists? | U.S.