Homeland Security Sees Anger At Trump as a Driver of “Domestic Terrorist Violence”

In the view of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence wing, anger over the election of Donald Trump, reflected in protests across the country, is a driving force in “domestic terrorist violence,” according to an unclassified report obtained by The Intercept.

The conclusions, laid out in a February 21 report prepared by the North Carolina Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC) and DHS’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A), come amid a series of controversial post-election efforts by Republican lawmakers to criminalize protest.

Focused on North Carolina, the six-page document “was written in response to a spike in violence and criminal acts — including an arson attack — targeting political party offices and staff that occurred prior to of and immediately following the election” and sets out to provide “an overall threat forecast for the first half of 2017 concerning like activities in the state.”

“In the lead up to and immediately following the 2016 election, North Carolina experienced incidents that included the targeting of political campaign offices and government organizations,” the report notes, which, “highlight their attractiveness as targets for domestic terrorists and various cyber actors seeking to advance political aims and/or influence government operations.”

Based largely on open source reporting and law enforcement assessments, the report focuses on a handful of incidents in late October in which GOP offices were targeted with “low level physical violence,” including with BB guns and, in the most serious incident, Molotov cocktails. Though property was damaged in the latter incident, nobody was injured. The report notes that the words “Nazi Republicans leave town or else,” were spray painted on a building adjacent to the burned GOP office — the report does not mention the “Black Lives Don’t Matter and Neither Does Your Votes” graffiti that appeared on a wall in Durham, North Carolina weeks later, however, nor the Democratic office in Carrboro, North Carolina that was tagged with the words “Death to Capitalism.”

One individual was arrested on federal terrorism charges during the period of heightened activity for allegedly leaving a bomb threat on a GOP answering machine in the county of Henderson.

The report also highlights three incidents of “malicious cyber activity targeting public sector — particularly government — entities in the last half of 2016” that “may have been politically-motivated.” In one incident, “a criminal hacker defaced a North Carolina law enforcement website by gaining access and posting pro-Turkey messaging.” In another, “a criminal hacker group” tried and failed to steal government records. In the third and final example cited in the report, a so-called distributed denial of service attack “significantly degraded” a city website’s “functionality and impacted connectivity.”

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Overall, the law enforcement and intelligence analysts in North Carolina expect that the vandalism allegedly motivated by Trump’s election “will likely decrease through the first half of 2017 as compared to the last half of 2016,” basing its conclusion on “the lack of threat reporting and the completion of the Presidential election and the near completion of political transitions in federal and state governments which may have served as a drivng [sic] catalyst for the violence.”

Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at NYU’s law school, said it was important to analyze the report and its conclusions for what it is: the work-product of one of the nation’s many law enforcement “fusion centers,” which he said tend to “measure their effectiveness by how many reports they publish.”

A former undercover FBI agent who infiltrated violent domestic organizations, German said the report failed on numerous fronts to achieve its intended purpose of providing information that could help law enforcement stop or solve crimes.

“It claims to provide ‘situational awareness’ but what information does it actually provide about the situation?” German explained in an email to The Intercept. “It doesn’t purport to quantify the number or type of attacks that made up the supposed ‘spike’ in election-related incidents, and it doesn’t qualitatively describe them either. It isn’t clear whether the examples summarized are the only cases, or the most serious cases, or just a handful of cases the analyst chose at random to summarize for this report.”

What’s more, German pointed out, “That election-related violence might go down after the election is over is tautological.”

A burned couch is shown next to warped campaign signs at the Orange County Republican Headquarters in Hillsborough, NC on Sunday, Oct. 16 2016. Someone threw flammable liquid inside a bottle through a window overnight and someone spray-painted an anti-GOP slogan referring to "Nazi Republicans" on a nearby wall, authorities said Sunday. State GOP director Dallas Woodhouse said no one was injured. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)

A burned couch and warped campaign signs are left at the Orange County Republican Headquarters in Hillsborough, N.C. on Oct. 16 2016.

Photo: Jonathan Drew/AP

While the report predicts a decrease in the kinds of incidents seen in North Carolina last year, it also includes a section on the perspective DHS’s intelligence wing, which links national protests over Trump’s election to domestic terrorism.

“DHS assesses that anger over the results of the 2016 Presidential election continues to be a driver of domestic terrorist violence throughout the United States — as evidenced by rioting in Portland, Oregon, following the election and violence and destruction of property in Washington during the inauguration,” the report says.

The early November eruption in Portland, cited in the footnotes of the report, was officially described as a riot by local police, who used flash bang grenades and tear gas to respond to property damage, which law enforcement officials characterized as “extensive criminal and dangerous behavior.” The widely reported inauguration day protests in Washington D.C., which took place a day before the historic women’s march on the capitol, also featured property damage and a hard-edged police response, culminating to more than 200 arrests — including a number of working journalists — most of whom were hit with federal rioting charges.

Trump has lashed out against as those protesting against him — whether they destroy property or not — as illegitimate and/or paid agitators. Following the protests in Portland he tweeted, “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

The message has apparently resonated. Since Trump’s election, Republican lawmakers in at least in at least 18 states have introduced bills aimed at cracking down on protests. Decried by civil liberties advocates as the criminalization of dissent, the recent legislation has included efforts to provide legal protections to drivers who hit protesters with their cars and proposals to use racketeering laws in order to seize the property of any individual who attends a peaceful protest that turns violent.

In the case of North Carolina specifically, DHS agreed “that the campaign cycle likely was a driving influence of the rash of incidents” last year, but “cannot discount the possibility that some such individuals could be spurred to violence against a variety of political targets in the state in the coming year.” The report adds that there are “other factors or occurrences that could foment further criminal acts and violence against political entities in North Carolina.”

Examples of other factors noted in the assessment include, “Negative publicity surrounding perceived political scandal involving North Carolina political entities”; “Passage of new state or federal legislation that is unpopular with violent extremists — such as legislation concerning: abortion rights, LGBT rights, environmental concerns, gun control, or federal health insurance”; “Perceived success in violent activity during the 2017 Presidential inauguration that energized local and regional violent extremists”; and “negative publicity surrounding voter registration in North Carolina during the previous 2016 presidential election.”

The report’s forecast for 2017 does not address reported rises in Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-semitic violence, harassment and vandalism, which some experts have attributed to the president’s right-wing base feeling emboldened by his rhetoric and success. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, such incidents spiked after Trump’s election, and while they have decreased in recent weeks, the organization says they remain above pre-election levels. North Carolina in particular was among the 18 states hit in a string bomb threats targeting dozens of Jewish community centers and schools across the country this week. The FBI, meanwhile, has reported a rise in hate crimes in the state in recent years, and in 2015 the infamous murder of three young Muslims by a white neighbor in the city of Chapel Hill sparked an emotional nationwide debate on the subject.

The Intercept contacted DHS for clarification on the agency’s views regarding domestic terrorism and anger over Trump’s election but did not receive a response.

“The issue of what is counted as political violence and what isn’t, this is a longstanding problem,” German, the former FBI agent, said. “Law enforcement agencies have long tended to view vandalism, civil disobedience, or even just protest against government institutions as more serious than actual violence against marginalized populations. That’s why crimes against government property are ‘terrorism’ but crimes against minorities are ‘hate crimes’ at best and ignored at worst.”

“For example, the report calls private property destruction in DC and Portland after the election ‘domestic terrorism,’ which vastly overstates the charges levied in those incidents,” German said. “For a fusion center to amplify disorderly conduct, vandalism, or civil disobedience into terrorism is inappropriate, factually wrong, and potentially misleading to law enforcement.”

Top photo: Protesters demonstrate against President Donald Trump in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 20, 2017.

The post Homeland Security Sees Anger At Trump as a Driver of “Domestic Terrorist Violence” appeared first on The Intercept.

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Trump May Choose “Alternative Intelligence” to Support His “Alternative Facts,” Former Agents Warn

A former CIA analyst assigned to work on the Bush administration’s attempt to link Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is warning that the Trump’s administration may be adopting the same model of “alternative intelligence” that led to the Iraq war. “They weighed false information. They also took raw reports and cherry-picked those from sources that we didn’t deem reliable, and gave those to the president,” said Nada Bakos, who worked at the CIA from 2000-2010, in an interview with Jeremy Scahill.

You can listen to the interview in the latest episode of the Intercepted podcast:

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Bakos said she is concerned that the Trump administration is operating with “the expectation that you toe the line according to what they want versus the reality, the situation on the ground.” That approach will “politicize the structure of the intelligence community. So you can politicize the information that comes out, possibly develop your own team that feeds the bottom line that you’re after,” she said. “That to me is one of the more concerning underlying factors in how [Trump is] treating the intelligence community. If it’s always serving his needs and serving his view of the world, he may as well not have one.”

After 9/11, as Vice President Dick Cheney orchestrated the drive to war, Bakos was part of a CIA team charged with producing evidence to support the assertions of the administration that Iraq had an alliance with al Qaeda. “That question did not come up organically through the intelligence we were collecting,” Bakos told Jeremy Scahill in the latest episode of Intercepted. “That question came up from the administration. We weren’t seeing indicators. We wouldn’t have formed a team otherwise to evaluate this information.”

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also established the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, which carried out an effort to extract information from across the intelligence community that supported the case for war. “Their findings were the opposite of basically what we were finding at the time,” she said. “So that in and of itself was the beginning of a backwards cart before the horse. We came to our conclusion. We delivered it to the White House, to Congress. The DOD did have a very different opinion on how they characterized relationships between Saddam and other terrorist organizations” This model of politicized intelligence— stove-piping bits of raw and unreliable reports, leads to bad information and tragic consequences.  “It led to war in this instance,” said Bakos.

In the same interview, Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent who worked on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, observed that Trump’s initial strategy has been an attempt to defang the intelligence community and “pump up the military and law enforcement community.”

I think the smarter people in the intelligence community are going to treat him like a dictator. And what do you do with a dictator? You play to his ego. So they will end up almost influencing the President like a foreign adversary, I think, that if they want to convince him of what they believe the truth or a balanced assessment for America is, they’re going to end up treating him like a Gaddafi or a Putin, or somebody that they want to appeal to. And they’re literally going to have to make their assessments with the information behind it come to terms with the president’s worldview, which is very frightening because it really sets up a lot of blind spots as well.

Watts also drew parallels with the build-up to the Iraq War and noted that the Trump administration has already begun to disregard Department of Homeland Security reports that contradict its policy agenda. “We’ve already seen this now with the DHS’s intel assessment around the [Muslim ban]. They produced a report that didn’t match up with this policy that they’re pushing. So now you see the administration say, well, I’m not going to listen to it. We’re still going to push it forward.”

“What I’m expecting them to do is start to put alternative teams out of the White House that are going to provide another competitive look at these questions, and if we see that, especially in the Department of Defense or run directly out of the National Security Council, I would have great concern,” said Watts. “That to me would signal: I don’t trust my intel agencies.”

Adding to the peril of politicized intelligence is the fundamental ignorance and inexperience of Trump’s inner circle, namely White House advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. “What is super scary about it to me is you’re looking at people who have got a thimble of knowledge about a lot of these groups that we’re tackling right now.” The White House is lumping Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and ISIS together as allies right now, Watts said. “That is lunacy.” They’re creating a big enemy that they can go out and fight.

“The fact that Gorka can’t even understand that on a basic level,” Bakos added, “means that he is completely the wrong person to be looking at countering terrorism and understanding the Middle East.”

“My biggest fear,” said Watts, “is that there will be a major terrorist attack between now and that current takes over, because it will bring the country under the umbrella of the president to be tough and have to prove yourself, and the ideologues will run first because they’re more organized.”

“If I were al Qaeda or ISIS I would attack now. If I was a nation state, Russia, China, Iran, I would provoke us right now because you’d get that overreaction that they want.”

Jeremy Scahill’s interview with Nada Bakos and Clint Watts can be heard on Episode 6 of the Intercepted podcast: Donald in Wonderland.

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