Another day, another symbolic 'mutiny' has broken out against president Trump in the US intel community, this time involving the Department of Homeland Security.
Overnight, analysts at DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis found "insufficient evidence" that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States. According to a draft document obtained by The Associated Press, citizenship is an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011. The DHS report said its staff “assesses that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”
The White House on Friday dismissed it as politically motivated and poorly researched. Trump has previously cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program.
The DHS report was prepared in response to the White House request for intelligence assessments of terrorist threats posed by migration. Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the Homeland Security report said it was compiled on short notice, but that it relied on information that analysts routinely collect and examine in order to guide counterterrorism policies. The report was shared with agencies outside DHS.
The three-page report challenges Trump's core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban. Of the other five nations, one person each from Iran, Sudan and Yemen was also involved in those terrorism cases, but none from Syria. It did not say if any were Libyan.
The report also found that terrorist organizations in Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan are regionally focused, while groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen do pose a threat to the U.S. The seven countries were included in a law President Barack Obama signed in 2015 that updated visa requirements for foreigners who had traveled to those countries.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report's authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government's intelligence. "While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing," Christensen said. "The ... report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete."
Still, as the WSJ notes, the report is the latest volley in a struggle between intelligence officials and the Trump administration that has rippled across several agencies. Some officials have critiqued administration policies, while the president and senior members of his staff have accused officials of leaking information to undermine his administration and the legitimacy of his election.
The compilation and disclosure of an intelligence report so directly at odds with top White House priorities marks an unusually sharp rupture between the administration and career public servants. It also underscores the difficulty President Donald Trump has had in converting his confrontational and bombastic campaign rhetoric into public policy.
Coming the same day as Trump's bashing of the FBI, an agency he accused of being unable to find leakers, the administration was disappointed the report's leaked findings. Trump administration officials said the assessment ignored available information that supports the immigration ban and the report they requested has yet to be presented. They were quick to preempt speculation that this is just the latest mutiny against Trump.
“The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for,” a senior administration official said cited by the WSJ. The official said intelligence is already available on the countries included in Mr. Trump’s ban and just needs to be compiled.
“The intelligence community is combining resources to put together a comprehensive report using all available sources which is driven by data and intelligence and not politics," said White House spokesman Michael Short.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security also took issue with the quality of the report, describing it as “commentary” based on public sources rather than “an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing.”
“It is clear on its face that it is an incomplete product that fails to find evidence of terrorism by simply refusing to look at all the available evidence,” said Gillian M. Christensen, the department’s acting press secretary. “Any suggestion by opponents of the president’s policies that senior [homeland security] intelligence officials would politicize this process or a report’s final conclusions is absurd and not factually accurate. The dispute with this product was over sources and quality, not politics,” Ms. Christensen said.
* * *
It was not the first time this week that DHS officials were at odds with White House policies and statements. On Thursday, DHS Secretary John Kelly, on a trip to Mexico, assured officials there that the U.S. would not undertake “mass deportations” of illegal immigrants and that the U.S. military would not play a role in immigration enforcement. The reassurance on military involvement apparently contradicted a statement by Trump earlier that day, in which he described enforcement as a “military operation.” White House officials later clarified that Trump was referring to “military precision,” not actual military actions.
The new DHS report, which is not classified, states that its findings are based on public statistics and reports from the Department of Justice and the State Department as well as an annual report on global threats produced by U.S. intelligence agencies. CNN reported Thursday that the intelligence office had compiled a report that was at odds with the administration’s views. Trump has defended the immigration ban, noting that the seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as “sources of terror,” and that two of them, Iraq and Syria, are home bases to members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, who conceivably could enter the U.S. posing as immigrants or refugees.