‘Misguided’ Obama counter-extremism program ‘almost exclusively’ targeted Muslims – report
The FBI called the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) a step aimed at “strengthen[ing] our investigative, intelligence gathering and collaborative abilities to be proactive in countering violent extremism.”
However, the latest report by the Brennan Center for Justice questions this, saying it has acquired the internal documents on the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In practice, the program “focused almost exclusively on American Muslim communities,” according to the report.
There was reportedly an inherent feeling of stigmatization related to the program, under which the US government gave grants to carry out the CVE to local communities and bodies within them, according to the paper. Those bodies more often than not were “police and public service agencies and policing research institutions.”
This gives “a grave risk that people who have nothing to do with terrorism will be labeled potential threats, particularly because schoolteachers and social service and healthcare providers who come into contact with young Muslims, but have no law enforcement or intelligence experience, are expected to make these determinations.”
Another important detail is that the FBI seems to be largely unsure about radicalization definitely leading to terrorism, documents obtained by the Brennan Center show. For instance, an FBI internal document dated August 2016 calls for authorities to be “proactive in countering violent extremism.”
A year earlier, the FBI’s Strategic Plan to Curb Violent Extremism explained: “There is neither one path or personality type which is prone to adopting extremist views [or] exhibiting violent tendencies.”
The report details a number of signs that might lead law enforcement to wrongfully allege a person could “signal a propensity for violent extremism.” The first of these is the feeling that the West is at war with Islam because of “US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks in Pakistan, the establishment of military bases in Muslim majority countries, human rights abuses against Muslims in Guantanamo Bay, civil rights infringements, US support for Israel, and Washington’s reluctance to support regime change in authoritarian states in the Middle East.”
The second sign would be feelings of alienation, hopelessness and injustice – however, the Brennan Center emphasizes in the report that if discovered in non-Muslims, these traits wouldn’t be deemed suspicious.
The report also slams the CVE for using “unscientific lists of markers or signs in a misguided effort to identify individuals who are supposedly on their way to becoming terrorists.”
The Brennan Center also notes that while “CVE intervention programs are framed as community-led efforts to counsel young Muslims” they are primarily funded, led and administrated by the US law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Justice and the FBI. That, in turn, boosts the risks that “these programs will act as a vehicle for intelligence reporting about people and organizations in CVE-targeted communities who have been identified as terrorism risks based on disproven indicators.”
The Brennan Center also draws a parallel between the CVE and the controversial Prevent program initiated by the UK government. In the UK’s case, local institutions like schools were urged to report any signs of potential radicalization in the area. British Muslims consequently said they felt stigmatized, as their own government called on teachers, doctors, social workers to report on them.
It seems that President Trump’s administration will lift the lid on the US government’s intentions: the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly reviewing the name of the program, and it could soon be renamed Countering Radical Islam or Countering Violent Jihad. That will mean “it will target only American Muslims” the report points out.