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Homeland Security Office Creates ‘Intelligence Spam,’ Insiders Say
Posted on Sep 6, 2011
By Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, CIR
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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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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