House Republicans who oversee U.S. intelligence are accusing the Biden administration of violating federal law by injecting a counter-foreign terrorist agency into the job of assessing domestic extremism.
The March 18 letter, spearheaded by Rep. Devin Nunes of California, top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says President Biden crossed the line that prevents overseas-collection agencies from snooping on Americans.
The letter went to Avril Haines, the new Director of National Intelligence. Her office released a report, “Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021.”
Signed by all 10 committee Republicans, the letter calls the four-page DNI report “misleading” with a “deceptive nature” and says the very reason for the report is unclear. They find the entire DNI exercise inconsistent with federal law.
“It is our view that your office, and the elements of the IC for which you are responsible under the auspices of the National Security Act and National Intelligence Program, are subject to longstanding prohibitions against domestic activities,” the letter says.
Republicans have grown suspicious of Mr. Biden’s focus on domestic extremists and see Democrats as trying to lump all GOP voters as security threats. Mr. Biden ordered the Pentagon to conduct a “stand down” so service members could be drilled in anti-extremism instruction. Some House Democrats have called their Republican colleagues the enemy.
“We are alarmed by the lack of explanation provided by the authors to justify the ODNI’s production of such a report,” the Nunes-led letter states.
A DNI statement said the report was drafted by the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), an agency designed to focus on foreign threats such as al Qaeda, ISIS and other groups who plan and/or inspire deadly attacks on Americans.
This specifically violates federal law, the Republicans argue.
“Based on the scope contained in the report, declared IC [intelligence community] involvement, classification markings, and ultimately the content itself, we are concerned that IC elements and personnel acted beyond their legal authority in its production,” the Republicans say. “For example, the explicit statement that this report was ‘prepared under the auspices of the DNI’ and ‘drafted’ by the NCTC appears to contravene the express statutory limitation on NCTC’s authorities on intelligence pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism. Under current law, the NCTC is authorized only to ‘receive… retain and disseminate such intelligence.’”
Both the Pentagon stand down and the DNI report came after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot when some 800 Trump “Stop the Steal” protesters invaded. The U.S. Justice Department has filed charges against over 300 breachers, with many identified by the FBI from social media posts of photos and videos.
The DNI report on domestic violent extremists (DVEs) included a statement that said the CIA and the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, organizations identified as focused on foreign adversaries, were also contributors. The report was primarily the product of the DNI, FBI, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.
Said the Republican letter, “While we acknowledge the seriousness of the domestic violence extremist threat and the need for a coordinated federal response, the involvement of the Intelligence Community in this circumstance should be limited to an examination of potential foreign ties, such as foreign influence, direction or funding of DVEs. There are numerous federal agencies with the requisite authority and subject matter expertise to produce a report on this topic, with appropriate support from the IC.”
The Washington Times on Thursday obtained a copy of the letter which was first reported by journalist Glenn Greenwald.
The letter also argues that, while DNI Haines calls the report an intelligence assessment, it was not in fact the product of the vigorous Intelligence Community Assessments (ICAs).
One report finding: “The IC assesses that domestic violent extremists (DVEs) who are motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States pose an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021.”
The DNI says the most lethal attacks will come from racially or ethnically inspired extremists as well as from militias.
It singled out right-wing militias, such as the Oath Keepers who took part in the Jan. 6 riot, as a growing threat.
“The IC assesses that the [militia] threat increased last year and that it will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021 because of contentious sociopolitical factors that motivate MVEs to commit violence,” the report said.
It also says that white supremacists have “the most persistent and concerning transnational connections.”
The DNI report lists four major DVE categories:
- Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.
- Anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists
- Animal rights/environmental violent extremists.
- Abortion-related violent extremists.
The anti-government extremists fit the definitions of militias, who contend the U.S. government exceeds powers granted by the Constitution, as well as left-wing Antifa, the Portland Oregon-centered group that wants an end to capitalism and to America.
The Republican letter asks the DNI a series of questions, such as, “Under what authority were National Intelligence Program personnel and resources expended for the generation of a report concerning domestic violent extremists?”
Also, “Did you authorize any individual or element of the IC to search or examine US person information contained within an IC system or database for the purpose of supporting the production of this report on domestic violent extremists? If not, are you aware of any such activities?
While the Nunes letter criticizes the DNI, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, California Democrat, applauded.
“Today’s report underscores how we face the greatest threat from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, especially white supremacists, and militia violent extremists,” he said.
The DNI report said agencies are aware they must respect privacy rights.
“All agencies involved are mindful of the duty to respect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties and to act within the authorities granted to them as they seek to put together as complete an intelligence and analytic picture as is possible,” it said.
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