In which I give the DHS a rare thumbs up

I believe we’re in a time of relatively low terrorist activity.  I don’t have any hard data to back that up with (mostly because I’m too lazy to do the work) but I’m just not seeing a lot of serious threats of a magnitude beyond the odd crazy shooter.

That being said, what do you do with a homeland security community that finds it just doesn’t have that much to focus on in terms of immediate threats?  Well, you could looks at that sort of thing as an opportunity and take advantage of the time to build subject matter expertise, refine processes, drill practices, that sort of thing.

Alternately, you could flail around, afraid that this dip in terrorist activity represents a threat to your job security and try to latch on to anything that can even remotely be considered a threat.

Case in point:  The Occupy movement.  With the exception of Oakland, the movement has been non-violent and criminal activity has been limited to ‘regular’ criminal activity (what one would expect in any large gathering of people) or activity normally associated with protest activity.  In few exceptions there’s little in the movement that can be described as politically motivated violence (or even property damage) that typically defines terrorist activity.

But, when al-Qaida isn’t around to be a convenient bogey man to ensure job security you take what you can get.

From Gawker (yes, Gawker) comes this story about how DHS resisted attempts to get sucked into the whole Occupy issue, despite proddings from state and local partners.  In fact, early on, DHS appears to have given the correct response to queries about the subject:

In October 2011, the documents show, the Los Angeles Fusion Center (one of dozens of surveillance centers that coordinate state, local, and federal intelligence) sent a query to DHS’s intelligence division seeking information on “any DHS products identifying and/or describing criminal activities and/or potential civil disobedience associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide” and the number of “arrests…made, type and number of weapons confiscated, communication used to plan these crimes, etc.”…The intelligence division flatly denied the request: “The information being requested does not fall within the scope of I&A’s authorities. Arrests being made at these protests are a criminal matter and the protesters are engaged in constitutionally protected activity…. DHS should not report on activities where the basis for reporting is political speech.”

Ah, yes…fusion centers.  Those *ahem* ‘Centers of Analytic Excellence‘.  And don’t kid yourself into thinking this was just one fusion center.

Unfortunately, DHS was unable to withstand the weight of requests and:

…there are several instances of DHS gathering and distributing intelligence on Occupy protesters without much justification.

…officials in the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties took a hard line on curbing DHS intel-gathering on Occupy after the Pittsburgh Office of Emergency Management released a bulletin, apparently produced with DHS help, on potential threats the movement posed. “Both myself and are somewhat concerned that several items contained in this Intel Bulletin might be advocating surveillance and other countermeasures to be employed against activities protected under the 1st Amendment,” wrote one official in an October 7, 2011.

This is the sort of slippery slope that occurs when you don’t have good procedures and clear standards in place.  Things get sloppy.  Corners get cut.  Mandates expand in an effort to appear relevant.  All without oversight or discussion.  It just evolves that way.

On the plus side (well, maybe for you) the Gawker article has over 300 pages (!) of DHS communications about Occupy that I, dear reader, will go through to see if there’s anything interesting.  Up front, however, part one of the document dump is pretty favorable to the DHS (although one wonders what is under those redactions).  They clearly do not want to get entangled in the Occupy morass regardless of how many requests they get.

Good for them.

As an aside, while part 1 mostly follows one email trail, towards the end of the document you can see the sort of drivel that passes for ‘quality’ intelligence products.  Basically, cut and paste work from open source material laced with wide speculation and unexamined assumptions.



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