By Dan Frieth March 16, 2022
Last Spring, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas ordered an internal review to identify how to best detect, prevent, and respond to threats related to domestic violent extremism within the department.
A component of this was based on online activity. “DVE [domestic violent extremist] attackers often radicalize independently by consuming violent extremist material online and mobilize without direction from a violent extremist organization, making detection and disruption difficult,” the unclassified initial report stated.
The report (obtained here) said that extremists, “exploit a variety of popular social media platforms, smaller websites with targeted audiences, and encrypted chat applications to recruit new adherents, plan and rally support for in-person actions, and disseminate materials that contribute to radicalization and mobilization to violence.”
One of the recommendations is to increase “efforts to better identify and evaluate mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) with a homeland security nexus, including false or misleading conspiracy theories spread on social media and other online platforms that endorse violence.”
While not directly stated, it was inferred that the DHS was in some way monitoring online activity. Obviously, some privacy and free speech concerns were raised.
And now, this month, the DHS has released a report with the findings of the review.
We obtained a copy of the report for you here.
“Every day, the more than 250,000 dedicated public servants at DHS work to ensure the safety and security of communities across our country. To ensure we are able to continue executing our critical mission with honor and integrity, we will not tolerate hateful acts or violent extremist activity within our Department,” said Mayorkas.
“The findings of this internal review highlight key steps that our Department will continue to take with urgency to better prevent, detect, and respond to potential internal threats related to domestic violent extremism, and protect the integrity of our mission.”
The report stated its previous report had highlighted that topics such as allegations of fraud in the 2020 election and “conspiracy theories” around Covid-19 would be worth focusing on, adding that the initial report last Spring said that these topics “will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] [sic] to try to engage in violence this year.”
Much of the focus of the DHS has been internal. Among the recommendations is the creation of a department-wide system for investigating and reporting cases related to internal domestic violent extremism.
The report states that the DHS should, when vetting personnel, “explore expanding the use of publicly available information, including social media…to identify or investigate potential violent extremist activity within the DHS workforce.”
It adds, “Studies and pilots have suggested that certain online activity may represent behavior of potential concern to national security and could be useful in assessing an individual’s trustworthiness, judgment, or reliability.”
The document further adds that the “DHS must continue to examine the use of social media and other PAEI [Publicly Available Electronic Information], including within the scope of personnel security vetting, to enhance the Department’s security posture in preventing and detecting violent extremist activity.”
The report also pays lip service to civil liberties, adding that it’s “critical that any study or implementation of social media monitoring is pursued deliberately to protect the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of all individuals,” – but doesn’t say how this can be achieved.
The department has already started implementing the recommendations, including updating its employees’ training modules.