The Department of Homeland Security Wants to Friend You?

While DHS moves toward omnipresence in cyberspace, what about the real world reality of a domestic terror strike? “The most clear and present danger is the homegrown terrorist threat, hands down,” a DHS agent told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity, adding that the department’s greatest weakness “after almost ten years [is that] there’s no federal agency or department that deals specifically with radicalization. No one to physically monitor the Faisal Shazad’s of the real world.” Faisal Shazad is also known as the Times Square bomber. No federal agency was aware of him despite links to high-level al-Qaeda operatives; the attack failed because of poor planning.

A state law enforcement officer echoes the same sentiment. “The homegrown terrorist threat is the number one concern for law enforcement at the state and federal level usually because they stay below the radar and then strike.” Since 2009, more than two dozen American citizens have been arrested on terrorism-related charges. Only one homegrown terrorist, Najibullah Zazi, was being physically watched by federal agents. In Zazi’s case, agents with the Joint Terrorism Task Force thwarted Zazi’s plan before he attacked the New York transit system with homemade bombs. DHS officials still won’t say how they wound up on Zazi’s trail.

“Terrorists communicate over the internet,” says another former DHS agent. No longer with the agency, he speculates as to why DHS is going to such lengths to monitor private citizens in cyberspace: “It is easier to watch individuals online than it is to set up an organization that monitors radicals in the real world because in [cyberspace] no one knows you’re watching them and no one can accuse you of targeting a specific group.”

DHS wants to be seen as a gentler, softer agency. “If You See Something, Say Something,” their electronic posters declared at the Super Bowl. But in the meantime, the threat remains the same. And thanks to Einstein 3, DHS is moving toward increasing its ability to be watching you.

I say friend DHS at your own risk.