It is not uncommon that intelligence and law enforcement professionals today would say there’s merely a perception of racism and injustice in American society.
The first installment of this series discussed intelligence reports in a very general sense. Little, however, was said about the people who pen, or consume, these documents. Over the course of a career spanning more than three decades, I have worked with many career professionals in the now defunct U. S. Customs Service and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), the investigative arm of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). That work has been in both the intelligence and investigative arenas. As a result, I have coordinated efforts with several intelligence and investigative agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and a host of state and local law enforcement entities all across the United States. I understand and can appreciate the process.
Make no mistake, each of these agencies are charged with the investigation of criminal conduct and very often do exceptional work. They work tirelessly to identify and assess threats as they’re developing. These same professionals are uniquely positioned to seamlessly address any criminal conduct resulting from threats to our safety and security. The good work, however, can be tainted when the realities of American society are ignored by those responsible for ensuring public safety. So, armed with just a minimal understanding of intelligence reports as presented in the last installment, let’s begin examination of the substance of this intelligence report.
The largest concerns surrounding the FBI’s intelligence assessment titled Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers center on its broad characterization of African American activists as a movement likely to commit unlawful violent acts, thus warranting monitoring by the FBI. It is also concerning that the FBI assessment has qualified the motivation for these potential unlawful acts of violence by this movement as a response to perceived racism and injustice in American society. Therein lies the first departure from what would be considered solid intelligence analysis and assessment.
Although shocking, it is not uncommon that intelligence and law enforcement professionals today would say that there is merely a perception of racism and injustice in American society. I’ve had a seat at the table and had in-depth discussions with high ranking law enforcement officials with Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Justice about the realities of criminal justice in American society. Some of these officials firmly believe, and have said on numerous occasions, that “. . . a person’s perception becomes their reality”. A belief that racism and injustice in America is a perception and not a fact seems to be the foundation for the approach to an assessment that would link the unrelated actions of individual African Americans to create a movement with a unifying ideology. That movement, quite honestly, doesn’t exist.
A belief that police brutality towards African Americans is a mere perception and not a reality, to some degree, in American society is wholly disingenuous. Beyond that, the belief that this perception is very likely to lead to threats against law enforcement officials opens the door to continued, if not additional, injustices based solely on the basis of race. It is also important that we understand that the black identity extremists (BIE) assessment uses language that is convoluted and misleading.
The FBI defines BIE as “. . . individuals who seek, wholly or in part, through unlawful acts of force or violence, in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society and some do so in furtherance of establishing a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities, or governing organizations within the United States”. Wait . . . what the hell did the author(s) of this report say in this definition? This is how the FBI defines a threatening movement? Exactly what are these individuals seeking? Are we to believe that the end goal is unlawful acts of force or violence?
Assessments with probabilities that fall just short of certainty paves the way for any number of enforcement actions by a multitude of law enforcement agencies.
I served as an executive in HSI with responsibility for the oversight of the collection, analysis, assessment and dissemination of intelligence that impacted the statutory authorities of the agency both domestic and foreign. I also served as an executive with oversight of investigative units responsible for developing and implementing investigative strategies to combat various threats of criminal conduct. Much of the work of those investigative units are based on intelligence estimates and the resulting evidence gathered in response to those assessments. There is no way in hell that I, or any of my counterparts that I worked closely with would have signed off on a report that had, as its basis, such a ludicrous definition of the subjects of the assessment.
Further, the FBI’s assessment that there is an 80 – 95 percent probability that the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri marked the commencement of an increase in acts of violence by African Americans targeting law enforcement officers points a finger squarely at the most prominent movement associated with the events in Ferguson – Black Lives Matter (BLM). That finger pointing leads any reasonable person to conclude that this is the only movement referenced in the assessment. What’s even more troubling are reports that some BLM members have been the subjects of surveillance as well as approached by FBI agents for no apparent reason.
Assessments with probabilities that fall just short of certainty paves the way for any number of enforcement actions by a multitude of law enforcement agencies. Additionally, creation of such a baseless, ill-defined ideological movement opens the door to potential private violence against activists engaged in otherwise peaceful protest. The mere suggestion by the FBI that activists who express concern about the injustices in the criminal justice system are somehow a threat could have dire consequences. That suggestion harkens a likeness to the tactics used against civil rights advocates of the 1960s and 1970s where the FBI’s monitoring attempted to disrupt and divide a movement.
The scope of this FBI intelligence assessment will be the focus of the next installment in this series.