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Homeland Security Office Creates ‘Intelligence Spam,’ Insiders Say

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Posted on Sep 6, 2011
vegatripy (CC-BY-ND)

By Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, CIR

(Page 3)

Since 2004, the office has produced more than 14,000 such documents – known as Homeland Intelligence Reports – many of them with little tactical value to law enforcement and security officials, documents and interviews show.

In early October, for instance, the analysis office issued the first of several weekly reports about the problem of cyber-terrorism in Louisiana but made no mention of a successful attack that recently had occurred on the state’s computer network.

Subsequent reports also failed to mention the attack but did include tallies, without specifics, of thousands of thwarted hacking attempts on computer systems around the state. The reports read like local crime blotters, offering little useful information about who had attempted the attacks. Each was sent to more than two-dozen agencies, including the Justice Department’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration and NASA.

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The New Orleans CityBusiness journal reported on the successful attack on the state’s computers in November.

In another report, the intelligence and analysis office focused on a traffic stop in Texas in August 2010. A state trooper had found more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana hidden between the floorboards of a trailer. Details about the arrest became public the next day in a court filing that included the trafficker’s itinerary. The intelligence and analysis office did not issue its report about the arrest until early October 2010, two months later. Among the recipients of its two-paragraph intelligence alert: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that had been investigating the case for weeks.

Earlier this year, municipal workers in Spokane, Wash., found an unexploded bomb along a parade route on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The attempted bombing received top billing on NBC, ABC and other news outlets.

The office published “raw” intelligence more than three weeks after the incident. The report offered little new information, besides borrowing the FBI’s description of the bomb. One of the report’s insights: “The Washington State Fusion Center continues to monitor the investigation,” the office wrote.

Daryl Johnson, a former analyst in the intelligence and analysis office, said the tendency to rewrite newspaper stories is a consequence of relying on inexperienced analysts and contractors. Leaders of the office have “the expectation that anyone can be assigned to any topic and start writing comprehensive intelligence reports within days,” he said. “That’s a bit much to ask of any analyst.”

Johnson said he was involved in the report that went through 28 rewrites. He said contractors edited them. That report, issued two years ago, was a nine-page assessment on the potential rise of right-wing extremists and their efforts to recruit U.S. veterans. Not long after its release, it was leaked. Some members of Congress and veterans groups said it smeared conservatives and offended U.S. troops.

Shortly before this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Phoenix, the office issued a joint threat assessment with the FBI and Arizona law enforcement agencies.

The 12-page document included maps and satellite photos of the venue, convention center and a prominent hotel. The document was labeled “For Official Use Only.”

There was just one problem: There apparently was nothing of substance to report.

“The FBI, DHS, and Phoenix metropolitan-area law enforcement agencies have identified no credible terrorist threats to the MLB ASG or its associated events and venues,” the document concluded. “Nevertheless, we assess that the MLB ASG’s high profile could make it a desirable target for terrorists or individuals seeking to cause casualties and to exploit media coverage to promote their cause.”

There’s no way to know how much the document cost U.S. taxpayers to produce.

Homeland security officials regularly have defended the reports. They say thousands of police officials read them, and they cite internal surveys that they say show 80 percent of respondents find “finished reports” either critical or very important. On average, about a dozen of the potentially thousands who received the reports responded to each survey.

Despite its problems, the office has supporters across the country, mostly state and local police, who applaud the training, security clearances and technology the Department of Homeland Security provides in a way other federal agencies, like the FBI, have not.

“DHS has done the best they can with … what they have,” said Steve Hewitt, co-director of the Tennessee Fusion Center, one of scores of new organizations in the states that gather, analyze and share information about terrorism and crime. “I don’t think they’re just getting by – I think they’re successful.”

No one really knows how many people actually read the reports. Homeland security officials did not provide an estimate. Critics, including some who worked in the office, say the reports, large and small, are a waste of time and money.

“They (the intelligence office staff) don’t know quality from quantity,” said Lunner, the former official in the office.

Low standing in intelligence community

The intelligence and analysis office suffers from chronically low morale, in part because it has a reputation as being a member of the intelligence community’s junior varsity squad.

For years, contractors dominated the office, making up as much as nearly two-thirds of its staff. About a third of the government jobs went unfilled [PDF].

Homeland security officials said they’ve flipped that number around, having reached a majority of government employees [PDF] for the first time in 2010.


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By Usability Testing, March 9, 2012 at 2:40 am Link to this comment

Because the analysis used in the intelligence office is so new and untested before, it is hard to allow others to undergo usability testing for it. It means that it is hard to prove whether it really works or not. If it has been useless all this while in actually detecting and preventing terrorist attacks, then it would have been a huge waste of public funds.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, September 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment

Here’s a photographer talking about being a suspect for taking pictures. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55r_f_n7IVo&feature=related

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By SarcastiCanuck, September 7, 2011 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Can’t wait to read thier terrorist assesment on the Girl Guides of America….There is something sinister going on with those cookies.

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peterjkraus's avatar

By peterjkraus, September 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm Link to this comment

We have devolved into a society that rewards
failure and expects nothing from its
leaders.

By that standard, Homeland Security is doing
a great job, Brownie.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment

gerard,

Good point.  This would explain why sites like Wikileaks are so sensational with news outlets, investigative journalism use to be their turf.

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By gerard, September 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment

Second main problem:  The “right to surveille” goes only one way:  The government has the right to sur-veille its citizens; those citizens do not have equal rights to surveille their government.  Nor do thay have tha means and access which would enable them to do so. Nor do they particularly want to surveille their government.  On the contrary, they have either lost interest or are scared they will be surveilled for surveilling.

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By gerard, September 6, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

Main problem:  If it was shut down, 875,000 more
people would be standing in line at unemployment offices, and an unknown number would lose their homes, go on welfare, etc. etc. The entire MIC is more or less one grand boondoggle which neither the citizens nor the officials of a wise democratic government would tolerate.

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By JMD, September 6, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Andrew Becker/G.W.Schultz,CIR       9/06/2011
          Connecting some of the dots you leave
wide open in your article.
        (a)Hundreds of millions of dollars are
spent on a poorly defined mission,with reports that
are outdated,irrelevant,vague or are regurgitated.
“Despite being well-documented problems”? Maybe,even
misrepresented?
        (b)Since 2003,21,000 reports have been
published and are stripped of sensitive detail.Mind
you this is an Intelligence gathering agency?How many
people were covered by these reports?“There are more
than 300 million people in the United States of
America.The 21,000 reports you refer to would not
justify the hundreds of millions of dollars spent,
unless this is a luxury resort - agency?
        (c)Now,it is at up to at least $2 billion
and counting,that has been submitted to Congress.
        (d)The office may be cloaked in secrecy
however,this does not eliminate the need for scrutiny
or accountability.Lawmakers and others do not want to
be blamed for shutting it down for fear of another
major attack.Really?With,“No exact accounting for
spending…” What might be the real motives for
keeping these programs on going - forever?
          These are but a few of the dots from
your article that indicate,money and a great deal of
power appear to be the real underlying issues here.
          What is dishonest,is to claim that
“ordinary people” get caught up searching for
terrorists,after a decade or more of their spying.
          The Patriot Act serves as a “signatory”
for the North American Union.The new Declaration of
Dependence of the America’s. 
          Thanking you for this opportunity -
          James M. de Laurier

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By Stewart Edison, September 6, 2011 at 7:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Homeland Security has been a feeding frenzy for those with good Beltway connections.  Remember the report by the WashPost in summer of 2010 that documented the massive scale (e.g., at least 875,000 people with top secret clearances)?

If you want to know how effectively all these agencies and contractors are managed, consider the position of Director of National Intelligence, which on paper sounds like a key position. Since formed in 2005 it has had five Directors and five Principal Deputy Directors! By the time their business card is printed, they’ve been replaced!

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By Jim Yell, September 6, 2011 at 6:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Terrorists are most effective by what they threaten to do and not by what they do, because when they succeed in doing something they receive a lot of unpleasant blow back.

This whole farce was started and justified by ignoring that our old intellegence apparatus was effective without this enlarged authority to invade everyones lives. The problem is the politicians and diplomats want to cherry pick the information in order to enhance the relationships that they wish to pursue. In other words the intellgence was there to stop 9/11 but it was ignored. The new mega-intellgence is just another opportunity for obfuscation and confusion.

We are all being played.

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