Do Politics Influence DHS’ Work?

Wired has a story about a former Department of Homeland Security employee who became the target of a tea-party / conservative uproar when an analysis he did on right wing extremist groups became public.  DHS apparently shut down his group due to the political heat.

I know nothing about that situation, but I do have a personal experience that is at least consistent with it.  A think tank contacted me last year to ask whether I believed I could contribute to a project that sought to forecast the likelihood that a political group would switch from non-violent to violent tactics.  It sounded like an interesting project, so we set up a conversation.  I shared several ideas and thought the conversation was going well.  But at one point there was something of a pregnant pause on the other side of call.  “Did you want to jump in?” I asked, concerned that I may have been monopolizing the discussion.  “Well, it’s just that you haven’t said anything about Islamic extremists” was the reply.  Indeed.  I had spoken in completely general terms, paying no heed to the goals of the generic group I imagined modeling.  Now it was my turn to be the source of the pregnant pause.  My interlocutor continued.  “Like I said, this is a project to model when groups turn to violence.”  I was stunned.  I mumbled something about Islamist groups not being the only groups that might switch to violent tactics, not sure I wanted to start an argument.  “Yes,” I was told, “but that’s what the client is looking for.”  I knew from earlier in the conversation that the client (i.e., the organization that had issued a call for proposals) was the US DHS.

That an experienced think tank employee believes that when DHS issues a call for proposals to model violent attacks is code for Islamist extremism does not make it so.  It is quite possible that this particular person has misread the tea leaves.  To be sure, nothing in the DHS solicitation suggested that it had a focus on groups with any particular ideology, cultural background, or political agenda.  And the FBI is not at all shy about its long standing monitoring of white hate groups.  Indeed, I hope the person with whom I spoke that day is mistaken.  the article in Wired, however, suggests that may not be so.

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About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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