On 15 June, the Biden administration published its new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. At the time, commentary outlets including Liberty Unyielding recognized the “Strategy” as a pretext for vilifying and ultimately criminalizing a huge segment of the American population.
In that earlier treatment, I focused on the process of vilification and how the media would factor into it; e.g., seeking to discredit factual reporting by raising “questions” about it (without proving anything against it), and then making the leap from that to calling the disfavored factual reporting “disinformation.”
But another use for the “Strategy” is now emerging – notably a mere two to three weeks after the Strategy was published – and needs highlighting so people can see the link clearly.
The Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism will be used to justify a lot of things. When the wording is inspected, the reader can readily discern what they are. We’re already seeing the evidence that such justifications will be used, and how.
In this article we’ll look at two instances. One is news from Tuesday, 6 July 2021 that the U.S. Capitol Police will be setting up regional field offices to investigate threats to Congress, presumably looking for the threats to arise in localities across the country.
The specific pretext, of course, is the 6 January Capitol riot, and the narrative that it represents a colossal act of domestic terrorism, supposedly planned by conspirators from “white [fill in your villain of choice] groups,” although little evidence has been offered in that regard, six months into the federal investigation. Most of us are all for letting evidence speak – but there has to actually be some.
The short version of what this USCP move is about can be deduced from the use of a key word in the announcement: “intelligence.” The USCP will be probing “intelligence” on such putative threats, with the intention of foreseeing and forestalling them.
As summarized by Just the News, “acting [USCP] Chief Yogananda Pittman … said the agency continues to ‘pivot’ toward an ‘intelligence-based protective agency,’ following recommendations in several post-Jan. 6 breach reports …”
This means collecting information about the public. Given the venue and vehicle – regional offices planted in the states – the prospect of cooperation with state and local police would seem to be a given.
The obvious questions arise: what will the USCP do that the FBI isn’t chartered to do, and perfectly capable of doing?
The answer would be “nothing,” in both cases. There is no practical need for this augmentation of the USCP – well beyond its traditional, chartered role – for any purpose related to actually addressing threats. The FBI is the proper organization for such activities. Indeed, the USCP expansion raises the question how much the USCP offices will do that they don’t have statutory oversight and formal rules for, as the FBI has.
We’ll get back to the “why” of the new push for regional offices momentarily. Meanwhile, the other point to be made is that the Strategy on domestic terrorism laid the groundwork for it.
From Strategy to action
There are quite a number of references in the Strategy to federal agencies working with state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments. The first one, highlighting the importance of this policy theme, is in the introductory statement by President Biden (p. 3):
Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the Federal Government and beyond. That includes working with our critical partners in state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and in civil society, the private sector, academia, and local communities, as well as with our allies and foreign partners.
On p. 6, a passage states the need for partnerships with SLTT governments (and other entities):
Addressing domestic terrorism effectively, responsibly, and sustainably demands forging a government–wide effort while protecting the rule of law and distinctive law enforcement prerogatives. That involves policies that protect the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation; bolstering efforts that address domestic terrorism across the Federal Government and renewing partnerships with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as civil society, the private sector, and beyond …
The next passage, on p. 12, is the cornerstone statement, because it speaks of building a community to address domestic terrorism (what exactly was the Department of Homeland Security for, if not that? What is the demonstrated need for more such building, clearly implied in the Strategy?), and of the federal government energizing, connecting, and empowering it. The feds, in other words, are to push this aggressively; by implication, due to an increasing threat.
We will also build a community to address domestic terrorism that extends not only across the Federal Government but also to critical partners. That includes state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as foreign allies and partners, civil society, the technology sector, academia, and more. Domestic terrorism and the factors that contribute to it pose a challenge best tackled by a set of interlocking communities that can contribute information, expertise, analysis, and more to addressing this multifaceted threat. With the right orientation and partnerships, the Federal Government can energize, connect, and empower those communities – communities whose input was critical to the formulation of this Strategy itself.
The Strategy is only 32 pages long; it won’t be an onerous labor to satisfy yourself that there are even more references to SLTT cooperation. (Run a word search on “local” to save yourself time.) It’s a strikingly prominent theme, clearly meant to signal that we should expect to see a lot of federal and SLTT cooperation.
Just keep in mind that this cooperation isn’t about known or charged crimes that meet the definitions of statutes. It’s about suspicions and possibilities – regarding Americans. That means the brakes and boundaries on it are less clear.
The same is true of the vaguely connected category of foreign influence on domestic terrorism, whether through the coordination of foreign “terror” or “extremist” groups with Americans, or through “misinformation/disinformation” campaigns by foreign actors, including governments.
But for the moment, we’re concerned here with the federal-SLTT cooperation. On the tacit basis of having justified that, in the domestic terrorism strategy, a new playing piece has been moved. The U.S. Capitol Police are going to have a presence in California and Florida, there to cooperate with at least the SL slice of the SLTT governments, and by implication vaguely enabled to energize, connect, and empower them.
The unique features of a Capitol Police expansion
But – as promised – here’s the interesting thing about the new regional offices for the USCP. The USCP doesn’t work for an agency of the federal executive.
The USCP works for Congress. Specifically, it’s administered by Nancy Pelosi.
If you think that means the USCP will be coming into town outside the existing infrastructure for federal-SLTT cooperation, and therefore may find itself stranded and ineffective at first, I recommend another think.
The California office is going to San Francisco. No enterprise of Nancy Pelosi is out of the loop in San Francisco.
The Florida office will be in Tampa. There are likely to be more politically-based headwinds in Tampa than in San Francisco, given the leadership of the state government (which is up in Tallahassee). But the city core of Tampa is represented in Congress by lockstep progressive Democrat Kathy Castor (14th District), and the Tampa metro has the distinction of hosting one of the key media organizations of the memes-n-themes Left: the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. (It was prominent in the Sudden Fake News theme that erupted overnight a few weeks before the 2016 election, with news outlets shouting over loudspeakers that Fake News attacked us on Facebook and was linked to Russia and Trump.) The Poynter Institute perennially receives substantial funding from the Open Society and Tides Foundation organizations, along with others like Omidyar Network and Democracy Fund.
Looking beyond SLTT governments to tech and civil society “partners” against “domestic terrorism,” the USCP regional offices would seem even better placed for those latter connections than for SL governments that don’t really have much of a known local problem of domestic extremism to deal with.
One more unique feature of the USCP was highlighted by attorney Robert Barnes:
Guess which federal police force is completely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, completely outside executive branch control & completely beholden to most corrupt members of Congress. The same one extending its authority to the whole country, w/ cross-country offices. https://t.co/CJQWaJLMif
— Robert Barnes (@barnes_law) July 7, 2021
USCP isn’t subject to FOIA requests.
Monitoring a journalist?
We don’t by any means have the full story on that yet. We did get an update to last week’s information on Wednesday, however, when Axios published an article claiming that “sources familiar” knew government officials had become aware of an effort by Carlson to secure an interview with Vladimir Putin. (Carlson also provided a separate update in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business News on Wednesday. See below.)
Here is the exact wording by Axios: “Tucker Carlson was talking to U.S.-based Kremlin intermediaries about setting up an interview with Vladimir Putin shortly before the Fox News host accused the National Security Agency of spying on him, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios. … Those sources said U.S. government officials learned about Carlson’s efforts to secure the Putin interview.”
Axios’s source(s), then, assert that Carlson was talking to Kremlin intermediaries about an interview, and that U.S. government officials learned of that. This indicates the source(s) at a minimum have a pipeline, direct or indirect, to government officials. (An alternative possibility that Axios is cooperating in a pretense about all this can be mentally entertained, but there’s no reason to favor such a hypothesis over the straightforward likelihood that Axios is in fact hearing from people who know what U.S. government officials are aware of.)
The implication from the Axios piece would be that, if Carlson’s claims to date are valid, and he’s being monitored – evidenced by sources quoting his text and email contents to him – it may be because he was in contact with intermediaries for the Kremlin, trying to get an interview with Putin.
On its face, that would indicate incidental collection of Carlson’s comms because foreign comms are being monitored. It does raise the question, which would require investigation, of how the monitoring captured the comms of Kremlin intermediaries based in the U.S. FISA doesn’t, in fact, allow unfettered monitoring of U.S.-based comms, even if they’re being conducted by or on behalf of foreign governments. Tailored, justified authorities are required for such monitoring.
But assuming we have the story straight at this point, the real issue is not that Carlson’s comms may have been collected incidentally, but that there now appears to have been a leak about Carlson’s comms based on incidental collection. That would mean, if it proves out, that not only is someone tracking information on Carlson that ought to be protected as U.S. person identifying information, but someone is leaking about Carlson based on such information.
There are enough curious aspects to this that I’m not fully convinced of what’s going on. I think the least likely explanation is that Carlson is running a scam. He has no motive to. He’s done nothing that needs to be obfuscated by a tale of government monitoring: journalists contact a lot of people the government may want to monitor, and it’s not the journalists doing anything nefarious. (His ratings are also terrific. He has no motive to try to bolster them with a fantastic tale that could be proved wrong pretty easily.)
I’m not sure all the pieces hang together for this to be a straightforward case, as the story is developing from Carlson’s perspective. We’d have to go down too many rat-holes to pursue that here, but Q&A in the comments would be fine.
Here is the update Carlson himself gave to Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday. Note that he refers to another journalist contacting him Tuesday evening to inform him that contents from at least one of Carlson’s emails had been leaked to the media, apparently from a government source. Carlson doesn’t say what the contents of that leak were, so a link to the Axios information about his pursuit of an interview with Putin can’t be confirmed.
(The segment focused on the allegations of spying on Carlson runs to about the 9:00 mark.)
For completeness, here is Carlson’s Wednesday evening discussion, same topic, with Glenn Greenwald.
In the meantime, however, let’s circle back to the purpose of this article. To put the relevance of the Strategy on domestic terrorism in perspective, we need to take one more step back to the Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which was promulgated in March 2021. This is the overarching guidance that is supposed to inform all policies relating to national security, which would include the domestic terrorism strategy.
National security “justification”
It is worth an extended pull-quote from the “global security landscape” introduction on p. 7 to give a flavor of how thematic the assessment is. It focuses entirely on developments couched as global or transnational trends, one of which is “violent extremism and terrorism.” (The emphasis is in the original.)
Recent events show all too clearly that many of the biggest threats we face respect no borders or walls, and must be met with collective action. Pandemics and other biological risks, the escalating climate crisis, cyber and digital threats, international economic disruptions, protracted humanitarian crises, violent extremism and terrorism, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction all pose profound and, in some cases, existential dangers. None can be effectively addressed by one nation acting alone. And none can be effectively addressed with the United States on the sidelines.
At a time when the need for American engagement and international cooperation is greater than ever, however, democracies across the globe, including our own, are increasingly under siege. Free societies have been challenged from within by corruption, inequality, polarization, populism, and illiberal threats to the rule of law. Nationalist and nativist trends – accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis – produce an every-country-for-itself mentality that leaves us all more isolated, less prosperous, and less safe. Democratic nations are also increasingly challenged from outside by antagonistic authoritarian powers. Anti-democratic forces use misinformation, disinformation, and weaponized corruption to exploit perceived weaknesses and sow division within and among free nations, erode existing international rules, and promote alternative models of authoritarian governance. Reversing these trends is essential to our national security.
Let’s highlight a slice of this as a thinking aid. Look how the connecting thoughts are strung together in the second paragraph:
Free societies have been challenged from within by corruption, inequality, polarization, populism, and illiberal threats to the rule of law. Nationalist and nativist trends – accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis – produce an every-country-for-itself mentality that leaves us all more isolated, less prosperous, and less safe. Democratic nations are also increasingly challenged from outside by antagonistic authoritarian powers. Anti-democratic forces use misinformation, disinformation, and weaponized corruption to exploit perceived weaknesses and sow division within and among free nations, erode existing international rules, and promote alternative models of authoritarian governance.
In other words, the phenomenon of “democracies under siege” involves both the domestic threats (inequality, populism, illiberalism, nationalism, nativism) and the foreign threats from antagonistic authoritarian powers, which engage in all the buzzword activities relentlessly flogged by the media since 2016 (misinformation, disinformation, sowing division in the free nations, etc.). It’s all crammed together as part of the same problem.
We’ve known this is a systematic media theme for half a decade now – and also something Democratic politicians mouth elements of on a regular basis. What I want you to see here is that it’s written into the national security strategic guidance that sets priorities for the Biden administration’s use of government power.
Now, within the context of that guidance, look again at the Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism – but this time at the sections that take up the theme of “domestic trends plus threatening foreign trends.”
Here is a passage on p. 18. The proposition is laid out in reverse order, discussing cooperation with foreign partners before articulating the threat itself. I’ve highlighted a relevant segment, where the familiar language about the threat comes into play:
The U.S. Government has thus prioritized obtaining from foreign partners credible intelligence and law enforcement information regarding international support for domestic terrorism in the United States, capturing it in written reporting, and sharing that intelligence and information appropriately across the Federal Government. That effort complements an increased emphasis on the sharing of relevant information with foreign partners, where appropriate, on aspects of the domestic terrorism threat of international relevance. We can also learn from our international partners’ challenges and successes in disrupting plots and responding to attacks, integrating that expertise into our own planning and operations. …
Additionally, the intelligence and law enforcement communities will enhance the government’s understanding of how foreign malign influence operations and the dissemination of disinformation, including by foreign governments, relate to the domestic terrorism threat we face. These efforts complement the U.S. Government’s coordinated activities to recognize, understand, and counter terrorist propaganda and disinformation.
Now note the sequence of this. The passage above, on p. 18, sets up the final punch-point on p. 19. This is the money quote from the entire Strategy (again, my highlighting):
[I]lluminating the transnational context relevant to aspects of today’s domestic terrorism threat can, in appropriate circumstances, allow us to bring to bear relevant authorities and tools specifically focused on international terrorism. When domestic terrorism threats become international through connectivity to foreign actors or otherwise, the full range of tools applicable to understanding international terrorism threats become potentially available, such as intelligence collection tools. We will apply such tools, where the facts and law support their use, in an ideologically neutral, threat–driven manner.
The Strategy is the policy document that would allow the use of intelligence collection tools to monitor “domestic terrorism threats,” when they “become international through connectivity to foreign actors or otherwise” (my emphasis). The chain of justification is presented on p. 18, and it originates with the national security strategic guidance from March, and its pairing of domestic and foreign threat trends as parts of the same problem.
The “or otherwise” seems like a spurious throw-away – but in a formal policy document, we can’t assume (or believe) that. It means something. It just doesn’t say what.
The two strategy documents put out by the Biden administration are not just boilerplate. They contain the language and premises to justify moves like deploying an un-FOIA-able police force to look for “domestic terrorist threats” against the U.S. Capitol out in America’s hinterland, and wielding the intelligence collection tools of the federal government against Americans, if domestic terrorism, violent extremism, and/or foreign influence on or through same is said to be at issue.
There has been well-informed speculation already about what sort of story Tucker Carlson might have been working on to catch the attention of U.S. intelligence. Lee Smith had a plausible proposition at the Epoch Times on 2 July: he pointed out Carlson’s interviews with Dr. Li-Meng Yan, the Chinese whistleblower who asserts that COVID-19 was engineered in a lab and spread intentionally as a bioweapon.
However you come down on that issue, the point from the perspective of this article is that Carlson’s connection with Dr. Yan – or potentially his pursuit of an interview with Putin – might be assessed under the assumptions of the Biden strategies as an enterprise to cooperate with a malign foreign entity in spreading “disinformation.” Such “disinformation” would then be framed as incitement to extremism, likely to lead to unrest and anti-democratic activity, and to culminate in terrorism.
We’ve seen just such fantastic leaps of logic day after day, in mainstream media coverage of every objection to the approved narrative about political events and conditions, from racism to all forms of discrimination, and on to concerns about election integrity (Republican concerns that exactly mirror concerns expressed by Democrats in every election of the last 20 years) and the nature of the Capitol riot in January.
The national strategy documents published by the Biden administration are blueprints for using such leaps of logic to make policy – and to justify using the tools of intelligence and law enforcement for monitoring blameless Americans, based not on probable cause but on theoretical suspicions that come from a political narrative.