THE MAGAZINE

Counterterrorism Perspective: Interview with Daryl Johnson

By Matthew Harwood

Since the backlash against your report occurred, you have said that DHS has ignored the threat posed by right-wing extremists and disproportionately concentrated on the threats posed by domestic jihadists. Has anything changed?

It hasn’t changed. I keep in touch with analysts and supervisors who still work there, and I have no idea why it hasn’t changed. In fact, things have gotten worse from a morale standpoint, which is sad.

How well-informed is the private sector security industry about the threat posed by the radical right?

If the private security industry is anything like the media, DHS, and Congress, they’re probably aware that it exists, but they don’t focus that much attention on it.

From a critical infrastructure standpoint, I think we’re vulnerable because from time to time, militia groups have planned to take down high-power transmission lines. We had a militia group in Battle Creek, Michigan, called the North American Militia. They talked about attacking roads, bridges, and power lines.

Some of the motivation is to cause service disruptions. When people’s power cuts out, they get angry at the utilities. Some of them believe they’re causing economic damage. Some of them want to do it because they want to embarrass the government: “You can’t protect our infrastructure” is the message; to show how we’re vulnerable. There have been a wide variety of motives behind doing it.

Is there anything to do to keep tabs on potentially violent individuals and groups without violating civil liberties and privacy rights and norms?

I think what we were doing at DHS was fully compliant. We had lawyers that oversaw our work. We had regulations and internal policies and procedures that we had to follow. Anything that we collected and kept was subject to inspection at any moment by intelligence oversight officers, the inspector general, whoever. We had a number of those inspections. We had mandatory training we had to take on a regular basis. I think there are a lot of safeguards put in place.

The one thing that’s currently being done, which I object to, is some of the civil rights offices have taken a very strict interpretation on what constitutes privacy. I think if you put things on the Internet that isn’t behind some sort of password-protected firewall, then it is public. I think the government should be able to monitor that. If you post something on a Web site, the expectation of privacy is limited because you put it there for all to see.

Would that extend to online social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter?

Yes. Obviously if it’s password-protected, then you should stay away from those types of sites. After the right-wing report, the Civil Rights Office at DHS stopped all monitoring of all public extremist Web sites. That’s taking a risk because nowadays before people attack things, they like to broadcast it to the world. They write manifestos. They post videos about what they’re going to do. To sit there and say that’s off-limits puts us in a vulnerable situation.

If you were the Secretary of Homeland Security, would you make any changes to its intelligence guidelines or procedures to protect the nation against domestic terrorism?

The one thing I would do is devote more resources to it. In 2008, when I was there, there were six analysts (I was one of them). In 2012, I understand that there is only one full-time analyst and another analyst devoted to this topic part-time.

As far as the new policies they implemented after the leak of the right-wing report, this G-6 review process, where they’re basically screening papers for politically sensitive phrases, I would do away with that. I thought that the review process in place before the right-wing report was written safeguarded people’s civil liberties and privacy rights.

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