Homeland Security Disbands Domestic Terror Intelligence Unit

April 4th, 2019 - by Betsy Woodruff / The Daily Beast

While the body counts from domestic terror attacks mount, the analysts looking into those attacks have been moved.

 (April 2, 2019) —The Department of Homeland Security has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing. 

In the wake of this move, officials said the number of analytic reports produced by DHS about domestic terrorism, including the threat from white supremacists, has dropped significantly. People in and close to the department said this has generated significant concern at headquarters. 

“It’s especially problematic given the growth in right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism we are seeing in the U.S. and abroad,” one former intelligence official told The Daily Beast. 

The group in question was a branch of analysts in DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). They focused on the threat from homegrown violent extremists and domestic terrorists. The analysts there shared information with state and local law enforcement to help them protect their communities from these threats. 

Then the Trump administration’s new I&A chief, David Glawe, began reorganizing the office, which is the DHS component that has a place in the Intelligence Community. Over the course of the reorganization, the branch of I&A focused on domestic terrorism got eighty-sixed and its analysts were reassigned to new positions. The change happened last year, and has not been previously reported. 

“We’ve noticed I&A has significantly reduced their production on homegrown violent extremism and domestic terrorism while those remain among the most serious terrorism threats to the homeland,” said one DHS official. 

Former officials pointed to a spate of domestic terror attacks in recent years as evidence that DHS erred by shuttering this branch. From the massacre that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue to a shooting targeting Republican members of Congress in June 2017 to bomb threats that a deranged Trump fan directed at prominent Democrats and CNN, violent attacks informed by homegrown hatred have left Americans increasingly terrorized. 

Reached for comment, a DHS spokesperson provided the following statement from David Glawe, the chief of I&A: 

DHS/I&A routinely works with federal partners, including the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and the National Network of Fusion Centers to gather Homeland threat information regardless of a threat actor’s ideology.  I&A has invested heavily in interagency relationships to enhance analysis on Homeland threats, including domestic terrorism, where I&A lacks access to relevant case data and information held by other federal agencies. I&A is also focused on ensuring intelligence production is not duplicative of other agencies and focused on areas where DHS I&A can add the most value through unique data and access within the Department. When DHS/I&A identifies domestic terrorism threats or related information of value, DHS/I&A immediately coordinates it and shares it as widely as possible.

Pressed on whether DHS disputes this reporting, a senior DHS official pushed back. 

“The same people are working on the issues,” the official said. “We just restructured things to be more responsive to the I&A customers within DHS and in local communities while reducing overlap with what the FBI does. We actually believe we are far more effective now.” 

But Sgt. Mike Abdeen with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast that his office used to receive a significant amount of material from I&A, but that the communications have dried up in recent months. For the last six months, he said, I&A has been mostly silent. He added that this has been consistent with broader changes in how the department communicates with his office. 

“It’s been very quiet lately,” Abdeen said. “It’s changed with the new administration. It doesn’t seem to be as robust, as active, as important—it is important, I’m sure, but it’s not a priority. It doesn’t seem like engagement, outreach, and prevention are seen as a priority as we used to see in the past. There were roundtable meetings in the past, there was more activity, more training, more seminars. Now it seems like it’s gone away.”

Current and former officials said I&A now must coordinate with the FBI when sharing information with state and local enforcement—creating another hurdle. 

“While I cannot speak to what is going on at DHS I&A today, the analysis provided by I&A personnel on domestic extremism was essential during my tenure at DHS,” said John Cohen, formerly the acting head of I&A. “Based on the current threat environment, I believe those same efforts are essential today.” 

But others defended the change. Two former DHS officials, speaking anonymously because their current employers did not authorize them to speak to the press, said this change eliminates redundancy in the government. These officials argued that the responsibility for preventing domestic terrorism lies with the FBI, rather than with DHS. 

“When DHS is writing something that may be terrorist-related, they have to—regardless of whether or not personally they might want to—they have to work with the FBI,” said one of those former officials, who was based at headquarters and liaised with I&A. “And because DHS doesn’t really have moxie and they don’t have a history of cultural and operational camaraderie, when state and locals receive a joint product from DHS and FBI, it’s more serious and they know it’s well-written and well-sourced.”

Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen, who heads DHS, has highlighted the threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S. After a terrorist killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand, she said the same threat exists here. 

“We, too, have seen the face of such evil with attacks in places such as Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and Charleston,” she said in a recent speech. “I want to make one thing very clear: We will not permit such hate in the homeland.”

But Nate Snyder, a former DHS official who focused on violent extremism, said the department’s move undercuts Trump administration claims that it takes domestic terror seriously. 

“You hear the secretary and this administration say how domestic terrorism is a clear priority and how resources will be bolstered, but you can’t say that and then all of a sudden get rid of the unit that’s there to detect threats and share information with our first responders, law enforcement, and federal partners,” Snyder said. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes