Saturday, August 18, 2007


The Homegrown Threat

Steve Schippert, posting at The Tank, took note this past week of both the NYPD's study on “homegrown” terror, as well as fellow ThreatsWatch contributor Michael Tanji, describing The Domestic Intelligence Imperative.

The Associated Press (AP) introduces the NYPD report as a comprehensive analysis of the threats and causes of homegrown terror:
The New York Police Department report released Wednesday describes a process in which young men - often legal immigrants from the Middle East who are frustrated with their lives in their adopted country - adopt a philosophy that puts them on a path to violence.
The report was intended to explain how people become radicalized rather than to lay out specific strategies for thwarting terror plots. It calls for more intelligence gathering, and argues that local law enforcement agencies are in the best position to monitor potential terrorists.

NYPD’s Intelligence Division (ID) invested considerable time, effort, and expense in the detailed data gathering and analysis upon which the report is based:
The study is based on an analysis of a series of domestic plots thwarted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including those in Lackawanna, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; and Virginia. It was prepared by senior analysts with the NYPD Intelligence Division who traveled to Hamburg, Madrid and other overseas spots to confer with authorities about similar cases.
The AP also notes growing alarm over the phenomenon of radicalization going on among US prison populations:
Recently, authorities have taken a closer look at radicalization happening in U.S. prisons, where a study last year by George Washington University and the University of Virginia found that Islamic extremists were turning jail cells into terrorist breeding grounds by preaching violent interpretations of the Quran to their fellow inmates.
However disturbing these trends, guests of US prisons are already known threats, and tracked by multiple layers of law enforcement and criminal justice organizations. More ominous still are those potential “sleeper” threats:
The NYPD report warns that more intelligence gathering is needed since most potential homegrown terrorists "have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble," the study says.

They "look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them," the study adds. "In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mind-set, intention and commitment to conduct jihad."
Described in several press reports as “dense,” the NYPD report runs 90 pages, and reflects the impressive intelligence analysis capability of New York’s finest. In terms of dedicated resources, senior management support, sophistication, and breadth of analysis, NYPD’s Intelligence Division surpasses all but the most professional Government intelligence services in the world. Surely, they are among America’s finest within the Intelligence Community (IC).

All that praise by way of anticipation of how thorough and comprehensive I expect this report to be. (Also by way of acknowledgement, I haven’t read it in its entirety.) Tanji’s piece at ThreatsWatch proved more digestible.

At a conference sponsored by Intelligence Educators, Larry Sanchez of the NYPD Intelligence Division (ID) briefed about NYPD’s counterterrorism approach. Based on that introduction to the NYPD ID, I will not be at all surprised if the report proves a critical resource within the IC. Likewise, based on what I’ve learned about NYPD’s efforts, those privacy purists who insist on remaining blind to obvious national security interests at a time of war will no doubt read this NYPD report as an ominous indicator of how far we’ve become a Police State in America. These purists will be wrong, as Tanji argues (convincingly, in my view and experience):
The fact of the matter is that the intelligence community is already drowning in a sea of perfectly legitimate and potentially dangerous material associated with foreigners. America’s spies are really not interested in data that is of no use, and that is what the vast majority of personal communications in this country is: useless. Ever listened in (inadvertently of course) to the average conversation of the average 20-something strolling through the mall or airport, on a commuter train or in a coffee shop?

It will of course be argued that no self-respecting Big Brother is going to use his power for that sort of work; it’s the dissidents and opposition that will be targeted. COINTELPRO and CHAOS are offered up as proof as to how far an administration will go to advance its agenda, but for every MLK Jr. that was snooped on, there were dozens or more that belonged to groups like the Weathermen, the Klan, and many other groups hell bent on damaging if not destroying the country. Abuse on a personal level is the exception, not the rule.

The problem we face today with regards to domestic intelligence is in many ways the same problem we have always faced: how do we deal with the enemies that are among us? The solutions to date have proven to be both unimaginative and uninspiring.

Turning our national intelligence apparatus on domestic targets is not difficult from a practical perspective, but the addition of a domestic mission would merely degrade our ability to deal with the foreign missions we already have. Absent legislation that would greatly expand the size of the IC, the community is faced with hiring more contractors and exposing itself to more of the problems that such a strategy brings.
In short, the IC has no desire to read your mail, and the more we do inadvertently, the less time we have to detect, analyze, and target those foreign agents and homegrown terrorists who actually seek to wage war against us and our interests.

But the fight against homegrown and home-based terror is vital. As Schippert reflects:
Michael notes what is often dismissed or unnoted by critics and observers of all stripes: Information overload and its impact on the IC writ large. Even beyond the debate of domestic intelligence, this requires redress and attention. We cannot forget that this conflict is, above all, a war of intelligence — both at home and abroad. The ununiformed and civilian-enmeshed nature of the enemy dictates this reality.
Often forgotten in these debates about terrorism and our military and intelligence efforts against terrorists and their state sponsors, is the fact that our enemies do not abide by the laws of war nor the Geneva Conventions. In any prior era, the proper and fully acceptable method of dealing with out of uniform saboteurs and spies was summary execution by duly activated and directed military authorities.

Nobody’s advocating, nor does NYPD’s Intelligence efforts equate to, anything extrajudicial or martial law. Reasonable, prudent, measured, and specifically targeted counter-terrorism efforts are not only justified, but have long been employed in prior and current efforts against drug dealers, organized crime, and other historical law enforcement challenges.

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