Politicized Intelligence Reporting and a Complicit Media

By Dan Cadman on February 27, 2017

The Associated Press has issued an "exclusive" article on a leaked "draft intelligence report" from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (DHS I&A) that purports to show that individuals from the seven countries named in the much-contested presidential executive order suspending visas and travel don't pose any particular risk. It is likely a politicized "intelligence product" that should never have seen the light of day.

The document is undated, unsigned, not on official letterhead, extends only as far as 2015, and appears incomplete. What is more, the definition of "terrorist" that it hews to is so narrow as to be downright bizarre: "[a] U.S. based individual who died in the pursuit of or was convicted of any terror related federal offense inspired by a foreign terror organization".

Why would they need to be "U.S. based", for instance? Was not the bombing of the USS Cole in the waters off Aden, Yemen, evidence of ill will by Yemeni jihadists? What about the murders at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, by Libyan jihadists? The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

Ironically, though, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan has pointed out, even with this eye-of-a-needle constriction, a few terrorists from the seven countries have been identified.

But even if there were none, as I have noted before, what hasn't happened before is no indication of what might happen in the future:

If, on September 10, 2001, you had asked anyone in America, government officials included, whether an attack was imminent, they would have looked at you as if you were mad, and I'm sure the same blank response would have pertained on December 6, 1941.

The document also consists entirely of open-source data, and not much of it at that. It makes no mention, for instance, of highly credible reports that have surfaced in the media about the discovery of blank-but-legitimate Syrian passports in the hands of ISIS discovered during raids; or of similar reports in the media in which an Iraqi general confirms having found Iraqi passports in ISIS safe houses in the Mosul area after liberation by Iraqi troops. How curious these omissions seem.

Finally, let me observe that the report clearly conflates volume of entries with level of threat. The two are clearly not synonymous — it doesn't take many fanatics to fundamentally change a society's outlook; wasn't that the lesson of 9/11 we were supposed to "never forget"?

For a number of years during my government service I possessed a very high security clearance that gave me access to top secret and "special access program" documents (as they are quaintly described in the press). I routinely reviewed intelligence documents at all levels, including those which were highly classified, as well as those that were not technically classified but labeled instead as "limited official use" or "for official use only" or "sensitive but unclassified"; in sum, documents like the one that has been leaked (although it contains no markings whatever, which is also a curiosity).

I know a quality product when I see one, and I know garbage when I see it. If this is the best that DHS I&A analysts are capable of, then Secretary Kelly would be well advised to sack the lot of them and start over.

But the chances are that this is not a legitimate product, although I have little doubt that it came from somewhere in the bowels of DHS I&A. I suspect that this is exactly the kind of leak that an Obama holdover would produce in the hope of causing embarrassment and consternation to the Trump White House — in which case Secretary Kelly would still be well served to carefully scrutinize the organization's staff and go about a housecleaning anyway, to prevent future releases of such politicized "intelligence products."