Tag: department of homeland security
'Red Flags Everywhere': New Report Shows FBI, DHS Ignored January 6 Warnings

'Red Flags Everywhere': New Report Shows FBI, DHS Ignored January 6 Warnings

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

A new report from the Washington Post published on Sunday detailed a deep dive into the extensive warnings the federal government received of potential violence and efforts to interfere with Congress's counting of the Electoral College votes on January 6. Despite this ample foreshadowing, the administration and law enforcement agencies were still unable or unwilling to prepare adequate defenses to keep the mob from storming the Capitol that day.

The FBI, in particular, comes off looking inept — if not driven by politically inspired cowardice or indifference.

"The FBI received numerous warnings about January 6 but felt many of the threatening statements were 'aspirational' and could not be pursued," the report found. "In one tip on December 20, a caller told the bureau that Trump supporters were making plans online for violence against lawmakers in Washington, including a threat against Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The agency concluded the information did not merit further investigation and closed the case within 48 hours."

Donell Harvin, the head of intelligence at the homeland security office in Washington, D.C., did raise the alarm, according to the report. It explained how he "organized an unusual call for all of the nation's regional homeland security offices" — a call joined by hundreds of officials sharing their concerns. They were reportedly warning of an attack on January 6 at 1 p.m. at the U.S. Capitol, just when the insurrection occurred. The planning was happening all over social media, after all — inspired by then-President Donald Trump's own tweets and rhetoric. Harvin reached out to the FBI and other agencies to warn them of what was coming, the report found.

He feared a "mass casualty event," according to the Post.

"While the public may have been surprised by what happened on January 6, the makings of the insurrection had been spotted at every level, from one side of the country to the other," it said. "The red flags were everywhere."

Despite specific warnings of the exact nature of the attack that was coming — the planning of which would certainly be illegal — it appears the FBI limited itself for fear of infringing on First Amendment-protected activity. The Post also suggested that FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was often under fire from Trump, feared angering the man who appointed him by speaking out about the potential for violence.

"The FBI chief wasn't looking for any more confrontations with the president," the Post found, citing current and former law enforcement officials.

Wray remains in his position to this day.

Meanwhile, the Post reported, the Department of Homeland Security did not put out a security bulletin to alert other agencies of the dangers, despite receiving, "sobering assessments of the risk of possible violence on January 6, including that federal buildings could be targeted by protesters."

As has previously been reported, officials in the U.S. Capitol Police were aware of at least some of the danger posed by Trump supporters still angry about the election in the run-up to January 6. These warnings, however, didn't make it to Chief Steven Sund, and he failed to effectively coordinate with the National Guard to get protection for the Capitol. The Capitol Police itself was woefully under-prepared for the assault, as has been widely reported. Sund resigned following the attack, one of the few officials to face real accountability for the failures that led up to that day.

Terror Experts Warn Census Data May Spur White Nationalist Violence

Terror Experts Warn Census Data May Spur White Nationalist Violence

The U.S. Census Bureau released its data from the 2020 decennial survey last week, which revealed, among other findings, that the white population in the country is declining.

White supremacist and extremist groups on the messaging platform Telegram quickly latched onto the news, ratcheting up their racist rhetoric in an attempt to recruit new followers, prompting experts who track extremist movements to warn that it could lead to an uptick in violence from such groups.

According to the census data, almost all of the population growth over the past decade was among people who identified as Black, Asian, and Latino, while the white population in the United States declined for the first time in history.

In popular extremist and white supremacist channels, that data was shared with racist analysis and a call for supporters to take action. One Telegram channel that has more than 50,000 subscribers posted the data along with a video of a large group of people fighting outside of a shoe store in LA, with the message, "Life is worth less than a free pair of this seasons [sic] shoes to these societal parasites... that doesn't bode well for the West."

Another message posted in a different white supremacist Telegram that has been shared more than 7,500 times warns that "White decline is deliberate policy, not an accident of history. And like any policy it can be changed."

The census data and subsequent reaction it has garnered in far-right circles on the internet has some extremist experts on guard, many warning that it could lead to a surge in violence, particularly race-based hate crimes.

"This has always been their greatest fear," said Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security. "And I think it's one of the main drivers behind white supremacist recruitment and violence, the demographic shifting in America."

He added that the "latest census results just reinforce that fear and realization."

"Undoubtedly," he said, "there are going to be people on the far-right that will be agitated and angered by this data and want to do something about it."

Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, also fears an uptick in extremist violence in the wake of the census data and said it was a trend the country had already observed over the past five years.

"The fact that these demographics are going to continue in this way, it means we have a serious problem on our hands with millions of Americans who fundamentally disagree with a multicultural, diverse democracy," she said. "And it's going to become a much worse situation."

"I think that the fact that we've seen the attacks on the voting on January 6, the attempts undermine electoral systems — this all part of the freakouts about demographics," she added.

The census data comes as experts already fear threats of increased violence from far-right extremist groups more broadly.

A Department of Homeland Security memo that leaked in early August warned of "increasing but modest" threat of violence from people and groups who believe are still pushing 2020 election conspiracy theories. And a study published on Aug. 6 from the Chicago Project on Security & Threats at the University of Chicago found that nearly 21 million Americans agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency" and that "the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."

For researchers like Beirich and Johnson, who track extremist movements and analyze chatter in encrypted extremist and white supremacist groups, the census data adds yet another opportunity of recruitment for such groups.

In the past few years, extremist and white supremacist groups have been successful in recruiting supporters from conspiracy theories movements like QAnon, along with anti-mask and anti-vaccine supporters, and other anti-government groups.

With the coronavirus delta variant crippling parts of the country and mask mandates being reinstated, Johnson worries the extremist groups may grow more active.

"It's under Democratic administrations where these groups proliferate," he said. "So, for at least the next four years... we're still gonna see a period of heightened activity."

He added, "It's going to take time to slow the momentum and growth we've seen over the past 10 years. This stuff doesn't stop on a dime."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Pro-Trump Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Federal Officials Warn Of Violence Linked To Trump ‘Reinstatement’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are warning that false narratives and dangerous rhetoric could lead to more violent events orchestrated by right-wing extremists. Speaking with CNN, a senior official for DHS has shed light on the possible uptick in violent extremism with states easing coronavirus mitigation guidelines.

"You're going to have more people out. You're going to have more people in public places. And you increase the opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals who are interested in conducting attacks," a senior DHS official told the news outlet.

Officials have noted that the possible rise in violence may be linked to the latest conspiracy theory that suggests former President Donald Trump will be reinstated in August.

Per CNN:

"The August theory is essentially a recycled version of other false narratives pushed by Trump and his allies leading up to and after January 6, prompting familiar rhetoric from those who remain in denial about his 2020 election loss. But the concern is significant enough that DHS issued two warnings in the past week about the potential for violence this summer."

On Wednesday, June 30, DHS officials briefed lawmakers on the latest intelligence as they raised concerns about the next several weeks. The publication notes that a Congressional source with knowledge of the meeting has revealed "misinformation and disinformation play in creating circumstances for people to act violently."

The latest report comes just says after DHS warned about the increased possibility domestic terrorist attacks with COVID mitigation guidelines waning.

"You're going to have more people out. You're going to have more people in public places. And you increase the opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals who are interested in conducting attacks," a senior DHS official told the publication at the time.

Over the weekend, Trump supporters in Ohio noted how they would respond if the former president is not reinstated as they expect.

"We are going to be in a civil war," one Trump supporter told CNN's Donie O'Sullivan.

A spokesperson for DHS has also noted that the department is "focused on the nexus between violence and extremist ideologies" and is working to "prevent acts of domestic terrorism inspired by disinformation, conspiracy theories, and false narratives spread through social media and other online platforms."

A Border Patrol vehicle at the US-Mexico border separating San Diego and Tijuana.

Trump Used Secret Terrorism Unit To Harass Lawyers And Journalists At Border

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Taylor Levy couldn't understand why she'd been held for hours by Customs and Border Protection officials when crossing back into El Paso, Texas, after getting dinner with friends in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in January 2019. And she didn't know why she was being questioned by an agent who'd introduced himself as a counterterrorism specialist.

Levy was part of the legal team representing the father of a girl who'd died the previous month in the custody of the Border Patrol, which is part of CBP. "There was so much hate for immigration lawyers at that time," she recalled. "I thought that somebody had put in an anonymous tip that I was a terrorist."

The truth was more troubling. Newly released records show that Levy was swept up as part of a broader than previously known push by the administration of President Donald Trump to use the federal government's expansive powers at the border to stop and question journalists, lawyers and activists.

An email shows agents being instructed to flag lawyers Taylor Levy and Héctor Ruiz coming through U.S. ports of entry, noting "subjects are suspected of providing assistance" to the caravan. Credit: Obtained by ProPublica via Santa Fe Dreamers Project

The records reveal that Levy and attorney Héctor Ruiz were interrogated by members of CBP's secretive Tactical Terrorism Response Team. The lawyers were suspected of "providing assistance" to the migrant caravan that was then the focus of significant attention by the administration and right-wing media. Officials speculated in later reports that immigration lawyers were seeking to profit by moving migrants through Mexico, and that "Antifa" may have been involved.

The records were provided to ProPublica by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a public interest law firm and advocacy group that received them after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the stops of Levy and Ruiz at the border in El Paso.

Following revelations two years ago by NBC 7 San Diego that some journalists and others were targeted for questioning when crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, the Trump administration maintained that the incidents were limited to San Diego and a handful of U.S. citizens. But the new documents prove the operation went further — and raise questions about how many others were targeted.

While the records are heavily redacted, they provide a window into exactly how the targeting worked. They also show that the push was based in part on claims that were simply wrong — for example, that Levy met with members of the caravan in Mexico while they were traveling towards the border.

"This whole thing is COINTELPRO for dummies," said Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to a notorious domestic spying program from decades ago. Tajsar is representing some of the San Diego activists who were stopped. An "intel-gathering apparatus was shared and deployed through a number of different agencies and resulted in a dragnet that ensnared a whole bunch of people."

A page on Levy from a Customs and Border Protection database with a handwritten note made about an officer called to her interrogation. Credit: Obtained by ProPublica via Santa Fe Dreamers Project

Responding to questions from ProPublica, a CBP spokesperson said in a statement: "In response to incidents in November 2018 and January 2019, which included assaults against Border Patrol Agents, CBP identified individuals who may have information relating to the instigators and/or organizers of these attacks. Efforts to gather this type of information are a standard law enforcement practice." The statement does not address the targeting of Levy and Ruiz or what role investigators suspected two lawyers in El Paso of playing in attacks on federal agents that were in San Diego.

The administration of President Joe Biden is continuing to fight several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration over the operation. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general promised to investigate the allegations in 2019, as the CBP spokesperson noted to ProPublica, but it has not published its findings. The current head of U.S. Border Patrol is a career agent who was in charge of the San Diego sector when agents there were helping lead the surveillance effort.

Neither Levy nor Ruiz were told why they were being questioned. What they were asked about didn't give them many clues. Both were questioned about their activities in Mexico — specifically, if they had been to Tijuana recently. They were questioned about their jobs and educational backgrounds; Ruiz was asked about the funding of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, where they work as an attorney.

Both lawyers also recall being asked about their beliefs. Levy remembers an agent asking her why she worked for a Catholic aid organization if she didn't believe in God, while Ruiz told ProPublica they were asked about their opinions of the Trump administration and the economy. Government notes of their interviews provided as part of the suit don't reference those questions, but they do cite comments from both Levy and Ruiz criticizing Trump's border policies.

Ruiz ultimately agreed to a phone search, despite their concerns about agents reading privileged attorney-client communications, which is exactly what the agents did. The records note the use of WhatsApp to communicate with people described as "foreign national" — Ruiz's clients.

Ruiz didn't tell anyone about their late-night interrogation for weeks after it happened. When they learned the same thing had happened to Levy, and when the NBC 7 story appeared two months later showing that similar episodes in San Diego had been part of a deliberate targeting effort, the El Paso lawyers sought to find out if they had been on the same watchlist. So Ruiz's then-colleague Allegra Love filed a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a lawsuit.

This spring, they finally got a complete-enough set of documents to piece the truth together.

In late November 2018, writing up an interview with a migrant who'd traveled with the "caravan," San Diego-area border agents identified Levy and Ruiz as two of "three attorneys/legal assistants that most likely traveled to meet with the caravan." The redacted notes leave it unclear whether the migrant identified the two by name, or whether agents made the connection on their own. Either way, by the time that email was forwarded to San Diego's Border Intelligence Center, the two were identified as "ASSOCIATED TO THE MIGRANT CARAVAN DEC 2018."

In fact, Levy had not only never met with people in the caravan, colleagues recall she'd vocally criticized the caravan at the time. Ruiz had conducted some legal workshops for caravan migrants weeks before their arrival in Tijuana, when they'd been staying in a soccer stadium in Mexico City. Ruiz and Love told ProPublica they had encouraged migrants with tenuous asylum claims not to attempt to come to the U.S. and didn't have any further involvement with the group.

According to emails obtained in the lawsuit, agents were instructed to flag Levy and Ruiz (as well as three others whose information is redacted) in the system for screening people coming through U.S. ports of entry.

When Ruiz came back to El Paso after a night out in Ciudad Juarez in December, and when Levy returned from that January dinner, the port officer checking their passports saw an alert that they should be interrogated by a member of CBP's Tactical Terrorism Response Team.

The team's stated mission is to stop suspected foreign terrorists from entering the country. But the government has expanded powers at the border that allow it to stop and question civilians entering the U.S. Records produced in an ongoing ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the unit have shown that its members frequently question American citizens. (CBP did not respond to questions about the role of the terrorism teams.)

What exactly the interrogations of Levy and Ruiz were trying to uncover still isn't clear. Levy and Ruiz both got the impression that they were being accused of "coaching" asylum-seekers to lie to border agents. The newly disclosed records don't include anything about that, at least not in the unredacted text, but they do say that Ruiz "admitted to facilitating the migrant caravan by providing legal guidance free of charge and educate the migrant's with the Asylum process."

The accusation that telling asylum-seekers about how U.S. law works is "facilitating" their entry reflected a broader suspicion that asylum-seekers were trying to subvert U.S. law rather than accessing a legal right. One Border Patrol email from the San Diego side of the targeting operation, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by NBC 7 and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and shared with ProPublica, referred to crossing the border to claim asylum as exploiting "a loophole."

A Border Patrolintelligence reportfrom El Paso, written several months after Levy and Ruiz were interrogated and included in the newly released documents, cast further aspersions on asylum lawyers. The report states, "Mass migration from South America into the United States is said to be coordinated at some level by non profit organizations who wish to line their pockets with proceeds deriving from migrants transportation fees up to the U.S Mexico border, and ultimately proceeds deriving from the migrants paying for their asylum case lawyers once they have arrived to the United States." It goes on to associate this effort with "other groups such as Antifa."

The report also asserts, inaccurately, that Levy and Ruiz were "seen in Tijuana assisting with the migrant caravan."

Now that the lawyers know more about why they were stopped — and by whom — they are all the more concerned it could happen again. Levy has since moved to California but told ProPublica she fears retaliation for this article.

Ruiz still crosses the border multiple times a week for work. "I'm still super fearful," they told ProPublica. "I don't know if this is the day they're going to detain me again." The caravans and Trump are both gone, but "I'm still doing this work. And I don't know what sort of false accusations they can throw going forward."