Tuesday, April 14, 2009

DHS makes headlines in both Drudge and Huffington Post

The notorious DHS report looking at possible right-wing extremism has managed to hit the top of both left and right blogs, with HuffPo hyperventilating at the prospect of actual proof that right-wingers are coming to get them and the conservative blogosphere shouting that they've been smeared in a Obama administration hit job.

Everybody take a deep breath.

Sorry, HuffPo, but DHS's intel office doesn't really justify the scary headline, and BelAir is still safe. DHS's intel office seems to be writing a spec piece; it doesn't want to look stupid if there is a series of violent acts in the near future. So it assembles the conventional wisdom, sprinkles its limited factual matter over the result, and sends it out. The theory is that this assemblage of clues and stories and guesses might be useful to some Montana trooper or Virginia patrol officer who stumbles upon a right-wing extremist group in the course of his duties. And it might be, I suppose.

Sorry, Michelle Malkin, Powerline, etc. but I doubt that this is politically motivated in any partisan sense. It takes a few months to produce something like this, especially without a deadline, and there's no partisan political leadership at the intel office. The report does have a whiff of someone toward the top of the bureaucracy saying, "Shouldn't we do a report on the risk of right wing violence, now that we've got a black President and all? Might get us some attention higher up, and I'd like to know how worried we should be." So some poor shlub gets assigned to see what he can pull together. You can find anticonservative bias in that if you want to, but the author clearly was working to avoid it, which is why the piece noted that lots of people who, say, oppose wider or illegal immigration are just exercising their rights.

I've read a fair amount of intel analysis over the years, and you really have to read it with some care. This report is pretty typical of product that DHS intel turns out by the dozen -- for better or worse. The right way to read the report is to say, "This analyst was assigned to pull all the evidence of growing rightwing extremist violence into one place so decisionmakers could evaluate the risk. This is all he could find." Read that way, it's a lot more favorable to the right than either the right or left blogosphere seems to think.

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