DOJ Inspector General Issues a Report on 'Homegrown Violent Extremists'

Who, exactly, is "homegrown'?

By Dan Cadman on March 5, 2020

The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) has issued a March 2020 report, "Audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Identify Homegrown Violent Extremists through Counterterrorism Assessments" (Emphasis added).

This is the redacted public version of a report apparently classified at the secret level, gauging by the strikeout markings shown as headers and footers on each page of the report. The very fact of any such report is somewhat remarkable; there was once a time — and not so long ago — that the FBI's bureaucratic exoskeleton was so complete that the agency was completely impervious to external overview or criticism of any kind from any source. That clearly is no longer the case, as is evident by the multiple OIG reports issued finding fault with the Bureau, most notably of course with the apparent manipulation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in seeking surveillance warrants surrounding the "Steele Dossier" of infamy.

The reason I have put focus on the phrase "homegrown violent extremists" (HVEs, in the insider talk of the bureaucracy) is because in its current usage, it seems to me an outgrowth of politicization.

The OIG report outlines in some detail "missed cues" by field offices in cases where individuals engaged in terror attacks after having been put on the FBI's radar screen. But if you take a close look at the individuals associated with those attacks, you will find many cases with a nexus to our immigration systems — either at the first hand (through asylum/refugee processes), or one step removed (via chain migration, usually the children of immigrant parents who reject American culture and ideas).

While HVEs do, of course, exist, the phrase has been stretched for reasons of political correctness to include individuals who don't seem, at least to me, to neatly fit that description. But putting them under that umbrella is a convenient way of avoiding the connection between flawed immigration/assimilation policies and attacks against our people and society, thus sidestepping polarized but important questions having to do with who should be permitted to enter and remain in the United States. Among such cases enumerated in the report are:

  • Mahin Khan, conspirator who planned to engage in an ISIS-inspired attack in Arizona;
  • Omar Mateen, perpetrator of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre;
  • Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarvaev, Boston Marathon bombing perpetrators;
  • Nidal Hassan, army officer who committed the Fort Hood, Texas, murder spree; and
  • Ahmed Rahami (alternate spelling "Rahimi"), Chelsea neighborhood bomber in New York City.

It has become a trend to brand nearly everyone possible as an HVE, a "domestic" terrorist, absent the perpetrator or conspirator having just stepped off the airplane at a port of entry or crossed illegally. This is evident from not just the instant OIG report, but more significantly in the many cases not cited by the report — cases in which pre-attack cues were not missed but in which horrific attacks occurred, such as that of Syed Farook (and his immigrant wife, Tashfeen Malik), who attacked a regional health center in San Bernardino, Calif., resulting in 14 dead and 22 injured. Over-application of the HVE umbrella is a mistake and a sure sign that law enforcement officials, usually at the highest levels of an agency, are bowing to political imperatives rather than focusing on their jobs to the exclusion of all else. And when they do so, it is duly noted by their rank-and-file agents and officers.

This OIG report, while useful in many ways, simply adopts the characterization of these cases as HVEs.

It is also one of a series over recent years that have revealed, to the shock and dismay of ... well, probably no one ... that, like every other organization, the once-vaunted FBI is composed of human beings with mixed motives and competence levels. I am no fan of any bureaucracy consistently getting a pass on having its internal workings carefully examined, and I think in many ways it's true that the FBI had begun to believe its own impressive public affairs machine and, until the veneer got stripped away, saw itself as having papal-like infallibility.

On the other hand, I believe that real damage can be done to an organization that finds itself subject to constant examination and criticism, because it leads to politicization. This was always the case with federal immigration agencies going back many decades in the life of the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service, something that continues to this day with its successor agencies in the Department of Homeland Security.

The same kind of politicizing decay has now infected the FBI, and I don't think the nation is better for it because it can lead to paralysis: Agents become reluctant to do anything proactive for fear of being chastised, demonized, or disciplined if, at critical moments with little time to choose among invidious choices, they make what is later deemed to be the wrong decision — and "wrong" can often enough be found when there is a need for scapegoats and one's leaders have already shown a proclivity toward bowing to the politics of the moment.

As for organizations getting a pass on their own motives and competencies, one is inclined to ask about inspector general offices across the spectrum of government agencies. Who watches the watchers? At what point are IGs, who are themselves political animals, simply looking to enhance their organizations at others' expense or, worse, their own positions with an eye to the future? After all, it's a lot harder to actually do the work than audit someone else's performance of the work.