Acting undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Brian Murphy, was reassigned last Friday after The Washington Post revealed Murphy had circulated intelligence reports on journalists covering recent protests in Portland.
While swift consequences for those in power are refreshing, Murphy’s reassignment is a small gesture that will do little to alter the course and function of DHS. In fact, Monday, The Nation reported the Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been compiling data on activists, including one podcaster, in an attempt to link them to foreign powers.
DHS was officially established on January 24, 2003, in the wake of multiple failures by the FBI and CIA to link evidence that may have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By combining 22 different federal agencies, President Bush promised the DHS would “improve efficiency without growing government” and called it “the most extensive reorganization of the federal government since the 1940s.”
However, since its secret, flawed development, rushed creation and approval, DHS has become famous as “a morass of inefficiency and waste” that has yet to stop a single terrorist attack. Critics pointing to DHS as a sign America’s drift toward authoritarianism were proven correct, and their vague mission to fight terrorism has naturally expanded to include “antifa anarchists” protesting police violence.
In addition to tasking a federal law enforcement agency with preventing crime rather than solving it, the selective classification of terrorism by our government is a major concern.
Domestic terrorists killed at least 42 people in the United States in 2019, and “all but one of the incidents had ties to right-wing extremism.” Yet despite these facts, the president’s silence in their regard and the diametrically opposed goals of antifa, which has yet to kill anyone and isn’t an organization, the president has declared “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”
As Representative Pramila Jayapal noted to Attorney General William Barr in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee:
“There is a real discrepancy in how you react as the attorney general — the top cop in this country — when white men with swastikas storm a government building with guns, there is no need for the president to ‘activate’ you because they’re getting the president’s personal agenda done. But when Black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism, and the president’s very own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers, pepper bombs, because they are considered terrorists by the president.”
DHS was born at the height of neoconservative power, a culmination of a long period of austerity and inequality. As a ruling class ideology, it is deeply invested in the production and maintenance of external enemies. Neoconservatives exaggerated and lied about the threat of terrorism in order to perpetuate fear, secure emergency powers and initiate a new period of conflict and plunder.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, many hoped he would undo these abuses of power. Those hopes were disappointed. In fact the scope of ICE, one of the most nefarious DHS agencies, was expanded about 3,600 percent under Obama.
Here, Jeh Charles Johnson boasts of his time as Obama’s head of DHS:
“We stripped away the barriers that existed between ICE and so-called sanctuary cities. By the time I left office, 21 of the 25 largest jurisdictions that had refused to comply with ICE detainers — written requests to delay the release of people arrested by local law enforcement — had signaled a willingness to work with ICE again in pursuit of the most dangerous undocumented criminals.”
Every president since its creation has increased the DHS budget by roughly $10 billion over the course of their terms. This year DHS had a total budget authority of over $88 billion. That’s a lot of money in a country that can’t even afford Universal Healthcare, particularly for another federal law enforcement agency that doesn’t make us safer and has repeatedly violated the constitution.
DHS has provided predator drones, stingray devices and several billion dollars every year to assist in the “preparedness efforts” of local police departments to increase personnel and purchase military gear such as drones, reinforced vehicles, body armor, lethal and less than lethal weapons.
This funding and equipment must be used if it is to be justified and continued. (Some federal law enforcement grants even stipulate such use, although DHS grants in particular come with “virtually no oversight”). And as a wave of terrorism has yet to strike every city and town in America, law enforcement must seek other targets.
DHS is responsible for the operation of fusion centers, of which there are now over 70 across the country, supposedly to combat terrorism, though a 2012 senate report found they have not “produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts” and they “forwarded “intelligence” of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.” In other words, “spam”.
Fusion centers “[appear] to duplicate a faster intelligence-sharing process administered by the FBI” according to GOP Senator Tom Coburn whose 2015 report on the DHS found that “despite spending nearly $61 billion annually and $544 billion since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security is not executing any of its five main missions.”
Morale at the DHS ranks consistently lower than at any other federal department. Perhaps they are conflicted about their activities or under the direction of inept, unethical leadership. Like many Trump appointees, DHS leaders must attach the prefix “acting” to their titles because they have not been confirmed by congress. In March, NBC News reported, “65 percent of top jobs in the department are vacant or filled by acting appointees.”
This is the federal agency now being transformed into the president’s private militia to help him win a difficult reelection.
Oregon’s governor, senators and the mayor were rejected in their calls to keep federal agents off Portland streets, an act that perpetuated unrest, and generated further images of conflict, reifying a message: the enemy neoconservatives once sought abroad can now be found within.
By mid-July, federal authorities had made about forty arrests in Portland, and there were news reports and video footage of agents beating protesters, including a fifty-three-year-old Navy veteran, who was left with a shattered hand.
Only Trump can protect us.. from the threat of people asking cops to be less violent.
In addition to distributing intelligence reports about the tweets of journalists, DHS tracked exchanges among protesters using the messaging app Telegram. According to Washington Post reporter Shane Harris,
“The Department of Homeland Security has authorized its personnel to collect information on protesters who threaten to damage or destroy public memorials and statues, regardless of whether they are on federal property, a significant expansion of authorities that have historically been used to protect landmarks from terrorist attacks… The guidance, first reported by the blog Lawfare, appears to authorize monitoring of social media posts as well as the use of public information sources to keep tabs on individuals or groups the department says may “damage or destroy any public monument, memorial, or statue.”
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who issued a restraining order on July 23, protecting journalists and legal observers in Portland from federal officers’ use of force and orders to disperse, appears to agree with the ACLU’s argument that “the deployment of federal agents who aren’t wearing badges, insignia, identifying numbers is an intimidation tactic designed to chill rights protected by the First Amendment.”
In a July 31 hearing, Judge Simon stated he is considering an order requiring federal agents in Portland to wear identifying numbers on their uniforms as well as “the possibility of criminal contempt proceedings or a ban from the state for any agents who might defy his order.”
“Some of the videos … several of them give me some serious concerns whether or not there are violations of the temporary restraining order” Judge Simon stated to the court.
Why are law enforcement officers, not to mention the law and order candidate, so unconcerned with violating the law? Why is dissent being treated as a threat to homeland security? No federal crimes are being committed. Graffiti is not a national security concern.
Today we find ourselves in the exact situation we were warned of.
In a July 31 letter to Murphy expressing concern over his surveillance of journalists in Portland, The U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Homeland Security, one of over 90 congressional committees tasked with oversight of the DHS, wrote, “This is a shocking misuse of the information-sharing apparatus meant to protect American communities.”
But it isn’t shocking. That’s the problem. It was predicted and predictable, even by men who lived hundreds of years ago. “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home,” wrote James Madison.
House democrats recently put further DHS funding on ice. As lawmakers are forced to address the demands of a movement to defund the police, they must look at the largest law enforcement agency in the country. It is a failure and a mistake, and before it receives the chance to win the favor of another fascist, we must Abolish DHS.