The Intelligence Spam Machine

By Becker, Andrew; Schulz, G. W. | Newsweek, September 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Intelligence Spam Machine


Becker, Andrew, Schulz, G. W., Newsweek


Byline: Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz

One Homeland Security office was meant to keep law-enforcement agencies in the loop. Instead, the operation is sending out 300 reports a month and intelligence officials have stopped listening.

Shortly before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Phoenix in July, the Homeland Security Department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis issued an ominous threat assessment. The 12-page document, marked "for official use only," included maps and satellite photos of the venue: a convention center and a prominent hotel.

It had all the trappings of a terrorism warning. There was just one problem: there was no real threat.

"The FBI, DHS, and Phoenix metropolitan-area law-enforcement agencies have identified no credible terrorist threats to the MLB ASG or its associated events and venues," the document said. "Nevertheless, we assess that the MLB ASG's high profile could make it a desirable target for terrorists or individuals seeking to cause casualties and to exploit media coverage to promote their cause."

This exercise in futility has been repeated so often over the years that the office built with hundreds of millions of tax dollars is no longer taken seriously by many intelligence experts and law-enforcement agencies. A year after Sept. 11, the Homeland intelligence and analysis office was created to keep state and local law enforcement informed about domestic terror threats. The operation, intended to bring together the many limbs of the intelligence monster, has become feared for something else: spam.

"They produce almost nothing you can't find on Google," says Chet Lunner, a former Homeland Security deputy undersecretary.

Since 2003, the office has published more than 21,000 intelligence reports, averaging about 300 a month in recent years. Because of the widespread distribution, and because of past controversies like a 2009 report on right-wing extremism that irked Congress and veterans, the reports are typically stripped of sensitive detail.

In one report, the office warned law enforcement to be aware of suspicious vehicle fires--more than seven months after the attempted Times Square attack left a bomber's car in flames. …

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