Senators object to agency using “Discover the Networks” for info on jihadists

Newsweek reported on March 11 an “exclusive” headlined Senators Accuse Homeland Security Spies of Cribbing From ‘Questionable’ Right-Wing Sources.

Actually, it’s just one source:  Discover the Networks, David Horowitz’s excellent database of information about leftist and jihadist individuals, organizations, and funding sources. We’ve used Discover the Networks many times. Here is our page of search results for it. So have Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, and many other talk-show hosts and journalists interested in learning about leftist individuals and groups and their funding. Here’s how Newsweek’s piece opens:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and other prominent Senate Democrats have accused spies at the Homeland Security Department of basing official intelligence reports on dubious open-source material. Inquiries by Declassified indicate that at least some of the data that Feinstein and her colleagues deemed “questionable” came from a website set up by outspoken conservative activist David Horowitz to catalogue negative information about the political left.  

It’s wrong to try to find out information about the political left, you see. It goes on:

In an  official report accompanying an intelligence authorization bill last year, Feinstein’s committee alleged that Homeland’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis had been issuing papers that “inappropriately analyze the legitimate activities of U.S. persons” – papers that “often used certain questionable open source information as a basis of their conclusions.”

…She went on to allege that on a number of occasions, Homeland’s spies had “produced and disseminated finished intelligence that has been based on non-credible, open source materials or focused intelligence resources on the first amendment-protected activities of American citizens.”

Let’s see. It’s okay for Homeland Security to produce a report on the right-wing threat, titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,”  which lists no specific threats. I don’t remember Dianne Feinstein getting upset about that. The first finding of the report is summarized thusly:

The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing* terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.

In other words, DHS put their resources into preparing a report on something they imagined might happen, and apparently on their own initiative, not in response to a request. And that was fine with liberal members of Congress. Now, here’s how the report the senators object to came about:

Congressional officials say the Homeland intelligence report that particularly angered Feinstein and other committee members is still classified. Nevertheless, three current and former intelligence officials, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, say the report in question is a profile of an unnamed but prominent American Islamic leader and was produced by Homeland Security’s intelligence office during the latter years of the Bush administration. The report was requested by the Department’s civil rights office, whose officials were preparing to meet with the Islamic leader. But instead of sending the civil rights office a quick bio of the individual in question, Homeland’s intelligence office issued a “finished” intel report that was circulated to other intelligence agencies and, eventually, to Congressional oversight committees.

DHS concluded that he was not a threat.

According to the letter, the Homeland report specifically went on to conclude that the Islamic leader in question was a “mainstream voice” and that information on him “points to politically controversial statements but not to extremism”  — conclusions that Rockefeller and Feingold declared to be “political assessments that are outside of the bounds of the authorities granted U.S. law enforcement and intelligence entities.”

So it’s okay to assess anti-illegal immigration groups who produce academic studies, but not Muslim leaders who possess many of the same characteristics as other Muslim leaders who turned out to be funneling money to Hamas, and other jihadist activities.

Feinstein and her colleagues are deeply confused. She objects to papers that “inappropriately analyze the legitimate activities of U.S. persons.” First of all, what is a “U.S. person”? A citizen? An illegal immigrant? Second, if someone is acting suspiciously, how do we know his activities are legitimate unless they are investigated?  It makes the point clearer to use an analogy from ordinary crime. Suppose a policeman sees someone breaking into a house and goes to investigate. The person turns out to be the owner who forgot his key.  Was the policeman’s action wrong?

Many Muslim leaders have turned out to have connections to terrorist groups abroad, or to have made statements inciting followers to violence. Not all leaders, but enough so that we need to consider it legitimate to investigate them. Particularly under the circumstances here. This was a leader meeting with an agency of the federal government; we don’t know why. There have been a number of cases in which Muslims became connected to the federal government in one way or another and turned out to be jihadists. Translators, for example, or liaisons to the “Muslim community.” President Bush entertained several at the White House. It is the most natural thing in the world for a government official to know about any Muslim leader he is going to have any contact with. In case Dianne Feinstein has forgotten, we are at war with Islamic extremists, and these enemies do not proclaim their identification as such on their foreheads.

Finally, the Senators object to open source material. Why? The question is whether it is true or not, rather than whether it is open source. And since the government is dangerously delinquent in its investigations of possible jihadists, I am grateful that so many citizens have taken it upon themselves to find out vital information and make it available. It was a citizen “Net Posse” that followed the recently come-to-light Jihad Jane for three years, and credibly claim to have alerted the feds to her. Let’s have more open source information; maybe the government agencies charged with protecting us could read these sources more widely so they can do the jobs they are supposed to do.

Here is the post on the Newsweek article at David Horowitz’s NewsReal blog.