DHS ignored civil-liberties lawyers’ warnings on report; Update: Senators demand data, explanation
posted at 10:56 am on April 17, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
The DHS pushed its report out on right-wingers in one hell of a hurry, according to the AP. Internal reviews of the document showed concerns over potential civil-liberties violations before its publication, but DHS ignored them in order to quickly make the document public. What was the rush?
Civil liberties officials at the Homeland Security Department flagged language in a controversial report on right-wing extremists, but the agency issued the report anyway. …
Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the report was issued before officials resolved problems raised by the agency’s civil rights division about analysts’ definition of right-wing extremism.
In a footnote in the report, right-wing extremism was defined as hate-motivated groups and movements, such as hatred of certain religions, racial or ethnic groups. It went on to say, “It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
This answers the rather absurd meme that has popped up on liberal blogs, that the Bush administration is responsible for this report. First, while the Bush administration might have wanted an assessment of right-wing extremist threats, it didn’t necessarily want one that painted returning veterans and conservative thought on abortion, illegal immigration, and federalism as extremist threats, nor did it want a threat assessment that couldn’t find a threat and had no data on actual, specific groups. Secondly, and most obviously, this report was dated April 7, 2009, almost 3 months after Bush left office.
Just when does the new administration take responsibility for reports they release? 2013? For people who thought Bush was such a dunce, they seem to give him remarkable powers to control government months after he’s retired to Crawford.
Now we see that this wasn’t just left lying around from the Bush administration. In fact, it was such a rush job that Janet Napolitano couldn’t wait to resolve the obvious civil-liberty concerns raised by her own lawyers before shoving it out the door. Napolitano would later have to backtrack on the exact same language flagged by the attorneys by claiming that she didn’t specifically approve the report issued by her office and that she would have changed the language in hindsight. She had the opportunity to fix it before its release, but the completely threadbare report was deemed such a high priority that it went out anyway.
Now, what could have triggered that? Anyone know of events occurring just after April 7, 2009, that such an assessment could have painted as radical, extremist, and threats to national security? Hmmm.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI has tracked a few veterans for extremist activity, but because they joined extremist groups, not because they’re veterans:
Michael Ward, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview Thursday that the portion of the operation focusing on the military related only to veterans who draw the attention of Defense Department officials for joining white-supremacist or other extremist groups.
“We’re not doing an investigation into the military, we’re not looking at former military members,” he said. “It would have to be something they were concerned about, or someone they’re concerned is involved” with extremist groups.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work — and that’s the way it did work in the Bush administration, whose assessment of left-wing extremists focused on groups with histories of violent actions and on actual data showing threats.
Update: Via Michelle, Senators Coburn, Brownback, DeMint, Burr, Murkowski, Inhofe, and Vitter sent the following letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano yesterday concerning the DHS report:
April 16, 2009
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
The Department of Homeland Security
310 7th street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20528-0150
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
We write today concerning the release of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” prepared by the Extremism and Radicalization Branch, of the Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division.
While we agree that we must fight extremists who are both foreign and domestic we are troubled by some of the statements your department included as fact in the report titled above, without listing any statistical data to back up such claims.
First, your report states that “Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists…” without listing any data to support such a vile claim against our nation’s veterans.
Second, the report states that the millions of Americans who believe in the Second Amendment are a potential threat to our national security. Why? Do you have statistics to prove that law-abiding Americans who purchase a legal product are being recruited by so-called hate groups?
Thirdly, the report states that those that believe in issues such as pro-life legislation, limited government, and legal versus illegal immigration are potential terrorist threats. We can assure you that these beliefs are held by citizens of all races, party affiliation, male and female, and should not be listed as a factor in determining potential terror threats. A better word usage would be to describe them as practicing their First Amendment rights.
Also, you list those that bemoan the decline of U.S. stature and the loss of U.S. manufacturing capability to China and India as being potential rightwing extremists. We would suggest that the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the manufacturing industry to foreign countries are not potential terror threats, but rather honest Americans worried about feeding their families and earning a paycheck.
In closing, we support the mission of DHS in protecting our country from terror attacks and are proud of the many DHS employees who make this possible in conjunction with our state and local law enforcement. We ask that DHS not use this report as a basis to unfairly target millions of Americans because of their beliefs and the rights afforded to them in the Constitution. We also ask that you provide us with the data that support the unfair claims listed in the report titled above and to present us with the matrix system used in collecting and analyzing this data?
Finally, we look forward to your prompt reply and we offer our assistance to DHS in our shared effort to fight terrorism both home and abroad by using data that is accurate and independent of political persuasion.