The Department of Homeland Security has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.
The department has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups, the officials and others said
The decision to reduce the department’s role was provoked by conservative criticism of an intelligence report on “Rightwing Extremism” issued four months into the Obama administration, the officials said. The report warned that the poor economy and Obama’s election could stir “violent radicalization,” but it was pilloried as an attack on conservative ideologies, including opponents of abortion and immigration.
In the two years since, the officials said, the analytical unit that produced that report has been effectively eviscerated. Much of its work — including a digest of domestic terror incidents and the distribution of definitions for terms such as “white supremacist” and “Christian Identity” — has been blocked.
Multiple current and former law enforcement officials who have regularly viewed DHS analyses said the department had not reported in depth on any domestic extremist groups since 2009.
“Strategic bulletins have been minimal, since that incident,” said Mike Sena, an intelligence official in California who presides over the National Fusion Center Association, a group of 72 federally chartered institutions in which state, local and federal officials share sensitive information. “Having analytical staff, to educate line officers on the extremists, is critical.…This is definitely one area” where more effort is warranted by DHS.
Similar frustration was expressed in interviews with current and former officials at fusion centers in Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee. Daryl Johnson, formerly the senior domestic terrorism analyst at DHS and a principal author of the disputed report, confirmed in an interview that he left in frustration last year after his office was “gutted” in response to complaints.
“Other reports written by DHS about Muslim extremists … got through without any major problems,” Johnson said. “Ours went through endless reviews and edits, and nothing came out.”
The threat of Islamic-related terrorism in the United States has by all accounts captured the most attention and resources at DHS since it was formed in 2002. But a study conducted for the department last October concluded that a majority of the 86 major foiled and executed terrorist plots in the United States from 1999 to 2009 were unrelated to al-Qaeda and allied movements.
“Do not overlook other types of terrorist groups,” the report warned, noting that five purely domestic groups had considered using weapons of mass destruction in that period. Similar warnings have been issued by the two principal non-government groups that track domestic terrorism: the New York-based Anti-Defamation League and the Alabama-basedSouthern Poverty Law Center.