The Best of the Homeland Security Reading List

by Rick Rockwell

These days in the post-Sept. 11 world it should come as no surprise that big brother is watching.  One example:  last week’s revelation that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regularly monitors various online media sources.

One might argue this is just prudent as Homeland Security does more than just deal with terrorism but is also responsible for disaster response.  But it’s clear much of this monitoring program is aimed at gauging the potential for what security experts like to call “asymmetric threats.” Also, as one might expect there is a lot of monitoring of newer media platforms such as Google Blog Search, Twitter, and YouTube.  Tech experts have even debated why the department is monitoring some tech sources but not others.  Of course, many media outlets and civil liberties groups pointed out this monitoring campaign could have a chilling effect on dissent.

But for this blog, the question became: just what sources of international news is Homeland Security watching and of those sources which are the best?  Of course, your mileage may vary, but after some careful sifting these are the picks this author suggests, in no particular order.

    • AllAfrica: Want a quick compendium of news from a continent often ignored by U.S. media?  This website delivers on a daily basis.  With offices in Washington, D.C. and various spots in Africa, the site provides a global view of the news rippling across this continent.
    • Informed Comment: Written by Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, this blog provides context and commentary on the Middle East.  These views are certainly not what you find in the mainstream media.
    • The Latin Americanist: This blog aggregates news items from across Latin America and also provides commentary and analysis from a diverse group of students and others.
    • Foreign Policy’s Passport Blog: There are many stops on the Foreign Policy site worth reading.  This is just one of them.  But this blog has an excellent mix of commentary, analysis, and insight.

Which sources did this list leave in the dust and why?

    • Borderland Beat: Although critical of Mexico’s drug cartels, this blog often examines the media and propaganda those cartels produce in a way that amplifies the violent messages.  Written by a crew of anonymous authors who claim to have law enforcement ties, certainly there may be reasons for the anonymity but this undercuts the credibility.
    • The Long War Journal:  No doubt, there’s interesting reading here.  But it all seems bent through a neo-conservative lens.
    • Jihad Watch:  More ultra-conservative views concerning the War on Terror and the Middle East.
    • Drudge Report:  Matt Drudge is still patting himself on the back for breaking the news on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Of course, if you want an index of conservative thought, his site is perfect.  But then again, you could just watch FOX News.  Pick your poison.
    • BorderFire Report: Considering that illegal immigration from Mexico is actually at nearly a 30-year low, the entire premise of this site seems to be to enflame anti-immigrant fervor.  Xenophobia at its best.

Some of the sites the department monitored have gone dark or other owners have acquired the URLs, such as one site that was once about the Salvadoran gang MS13 but now seems to be a site with some shady views about teens and tweens.

Perhaps this will become an annual rite: reviewing Homeland Security’s reading choices.  Certainly our seal of approval or that of the department would never have the same effect on steering readers as someone like Oprah Winfrey has on the media world or the book world.  (Isn’t being included on the department’s list actually the ultimate form of the backhanded compliment?)  But as Oprah might say, we can always aspire to more.

(The logo of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is in the public domain.)

About rickrockwell2011

Rick Rockwell is the Director of the School of Communication’s International Media program at American University. Rockwell is an award-winning journalist and author. His book, Media Power in Central America, won an award from the American Library Association. Please see the additional links for a full profile.
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