ANALYSIS: ACLU and GOP upset over militia report

Monday, April 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:45 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 6, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican Party and the American Civil Liberties Union finally have found common ground.

Both are outraged by a recently leaked report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center — an office that compiles and distributes homeland security information — that describes the characteristics of potential militia members.

Among other things, the report claims militia members usually are supporters of third-party political groups and "often subscribe to the ideology of other right-wing extremist movements."

It highlights specific ideologies: Christian Identity groups, white nationalists, militant anti-abortionists, tax resisters, illegal immigration opponents.

It also identifies specific 2008 presidential candidates that militia members likely would support — Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who ran for president as a Libertarian.

Republicans say the Feb. 20 report by Missouri's law enforcement fusion center amounts to an attack on conservative ideologies and the politicians who espouse them.

Although research for the report began last summer under the administration of Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, the report was issued with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's name on top. Various Republicans have called upon Nixon to apologize or place his public safety director on leave, which Nixon has declined to do.

The ACLU last week asked civil rights officials in the federal Department of Homeland Security to investigate Missouri's report, as well as one issued Feb. 19 by the North Central Texas Fusion System.

Whereas the Missouri report focuses on "right-wing extremists," the Texas report names several "far left groups" that it says have accommodating views of Palestinian terror groups. It also associates specific public officials with the leftist groups, namely former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

The ACLU contends intelligence fusion centers, which were founded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are becoming more of a threat to citizens than a security devise.

"This is part of a national trend where intelligence reports are turning attention away from people who are actually doing bad things to people who are thinking thoughts that the government, for whatever reason, doesn't like," said Michael German, a Washington-based ACLU policy counselor on national security issues.

"They are an equal opportunity infringer" on civil rights, in some cases targeting the political right, in other cases the political left, German said.

About 70 intelligence fusion centers exist around the nation, including ones in Jefferson City, Kansas City and St. Louis.

At the National Fusion Center Conference last month in Kansas City, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano praised fusion centers as the centerpiece for local, state and federal intelligence sharing.

Robert Riegle, director of the State and Local Program Office for the federal Office of Intelligence and Analysis, testified last week before a congressional subcommittee that fusion centers are helping law enforcement officers more effectively provide protection.

"Thoughtful analysis about risks to our communities supports elected officials and homeland security leaders," Riegle testified.

At issue is whether fusion centers are truly providing thoughtful analysis.

On the same day as the federal hearing on fusion centers, Missouri's Senate Appropriations Committee quizzed Highway Patrol Col. James Keathley about the state fusion center's militia report and the fine line between profiling citizens and providing clues for police.

Missouri's fusion center has produced 15 other reports since it began operating a little more than three years ago, including ones on the national socialist and anarchist movements.

Keathley said "The Modern Militia Movement" report never should have named political candidates. He said all future reports will be reviewed by himself and the director of the Department of Public Safety before being distributed to law enforcement.

But otherwise, Keathley generally defended the report, including its reference to some militia members holding extreme anti-abortion and anti-illegal-immigration viewpoints.

"This is like us getting information that drug dealers like to eat at McDonald's," Keathley said. "That may be true, but it doesn't make McDonald's wrong and it doesn't make you wrong for eating at McDonald's."

Keathley said the report didn't direct police to take any particular action.

"This document tells law enforcement to do nothing — it's like the Reader's Digest for law enforcement," he said. "It doesn't tell you to stop these people, it doesn't tell you to send their names in and we'll put it in a database."

Politically speaking, however, the militia report already has been damaging — if not for those whom it describes, then for the people responsible for producing it.

Management changes are likely at the Missouri Information Analysis Center.

"I'm very concerned about the reputation of the Highway Patrol," Keathley told senators. "I don't want this to tarnish it."

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