JEFFERSON CITY | Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday blamed the "overzealousness" of a Missouri State Highway Patrol unit for a report slammed by conservatives because it links various right-wing organizations with the modern militia movement.
The Democratic governor faced numerous questions about the report and how the state's police agencies gather intelligence during a news conference following a signing ceremony for legislation creating two new state accounts for federal stimulus money.
"I'm confident that some of the overzealousness of this previously formed unit will be appropriately managed," Nixon said.
It is clear, however, that Nixon is just trying to stay ahead of the firestorm of criticism this report has brought:
Anger over the report's conclusions has bubbled among conservatives for weeks. The controversy intensified Wednesday after Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder held a news conference in the Capitol and called for Nixon's director of public safety to be disciplined.
Several hours after Kinder's news conference, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Keathley said he had halted distribution of the report and said no future reports will be issued from the state's fusion center before he and Public Safety Director John Britt approve them.
This one's really rich, as Col. Keathley and his minions have already been found to have illegally distributed information about Missouri citizens on law enforcement databases.
Of course, for Governor Nixon, that's a non-issue: it's all the fault of the Republicans:
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Nixon called that an important oversight step that was neglected when the information center was created under former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
When asked from where the ideas behind the report's conclusions originated, Nixon said he did not know.
"I have no idea, I was not governor when MIAC was formed," Nixon said. "I was not the governor, I did not hire any of the people who are there, and nobody from my administration — the director of public safety or the colonel (Keathley) — saw the stuff before it went out."
What Nixon is actually saying here is that he took no interest in MIAC fusion center operations, and left it all to Keathley and Britt--who didn't supervise the MIAC either, since they didn't see the fusion center reports before they were distributed.
Nixon then manages to conflate the issue--as if somebody had said law enforcement agencies shouldn't gather terrorism intelligence, instead of responding to the criticisms that the MIAC did so in an amateurish and Orwellian manner:
"Threat assessments are important to do in all law enforcement," he said. "When a cop walks a beat — whether it's in a school or down a neighborhood — they look at a lot of houses of a lot of law-abiding people. And basic police work takes in intelligence and deals with that and develops threat bases, threat assessments."
Fortunately, other folks in Missouri are not having any of that:
But Nixon's explanation was not sufficient to some angered by the report.
Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea said reviewing future reports is good but that the lieutenant governor's questions have not been answered about why the report was even drafted and if there are other reports that politically profile people.
"Someone should still answer for the profiling that was done in this previous report," he said.
Later Thursday, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., released a letter to Nixon asking that the state determine if any federal funds were used to help create the report.
And state Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, pledged to file legislation to create a special oversight committee to examine the fusion center's activities and procedures, including whether it engaged in racial, religious, political or social profiling.
These are two critical questions that we can't allow the government to sweep away:
1) What other reports are out there in the hands of law enforcement officials--in Missouri or elsewhere--that are equally amateurish and potentially dangerous without any redeeming intelligence value?
2) When will we realize that the so-called war on terror (which must now be domestic contingency operations, I guess) has given law enforcement a good eight years of a virtually complete vacation from citizen oversight.
The only way that other abuses will be found and/or prevented is if we find them and prevent them.
Meanwhile it has again fallen to bloggers--this time Missouri blog Fired Up--to take the story to the next level and ask direct questions about the man who actually approved the MIAC report:
Somehow lost in the MIAC report fury is MIAC director Van Godsey. Godsey has been the MIAC director since its creation, and the Superintendent of the Highway Patrol has identified Godsey as the man who reviewed and approved the report.
Godsey has long been close with top Republican leaders. He was appointed to his current position as Director of MIAC under Governor Blunt. He was a confidant of former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof, and worked directly with Hulshof in the tragic Joshua Kezer case. Once, Van Godsey described himself to Matt Blunt's former chief counsel, Henry Herschel, as Blunt's "smartest hardworking asset." Herschel, in turn, called Godsey one of the Governor's "best employees."
When and how did Godsey approve the report for distribution?
And it's just a regular guy who has Col. Keathley's amazing statement which reveals that until this controversy there was absolutely no oversight of the material coming out of the MIAC fusion center:
The release of a report on militia groups last month by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) has led me to take a hard look at the manner in which the Missouri State Highway Patrol oversees the dissemination of law enforcement information by the MIAC. My review of the procedures used by the MIAC in the three years since its inception indicates that the mechanism in place for oversight of reports needs improvement.
Until two weeks ago, the process for release of reports from the MIAC to law enforcement officers around the state required no review by leaders of the Missouri State Highway Patrol or the Department of Public Safety. That process had been unchanged since the MIAC began issuing these reports in June 2007.
For instance, the militia report was created by a MIAC employee, reviewed by the MIAC director, and sent immediately to law enforcement agencies across Missouri. The militia report was never reviewed by me or by the Director of Public Safety, John Britt, at any point prior to its issuance. Had that report been reviewed by either my office or by leaders of the Department of Public Safety, it would never have been released to law enforcement agencies.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety believe that law enforcement officers require intelligence of the highest quality and that the report in question does not meet that standard. For that reason, I have ordered the MIAC to permanently cease distribution of the militia report. Further, I am creating a new process for oversight of reports drafted by the MIAC that will require leaders of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety to review the content of these reports before they are shared with law enforcement. My office will also undertake a review of the origin of the report by MIAC.
In the future, high-level review of these reports prior to issuance will ensure not only that law enforcement officers get better quality intelligence, but also that certain subsets of Missourians will not be singled out inappropriately in these reports for particular associations. The Highway Patrol has already developed a new system for this review, and is working cooperatively with the Department of Public Safety to integrate departmental leadership fully in that process.
Fortunately for all our sakes, Missouri Libertarians also remain all over this story.