You are here: Home Government Affairs
Released: October 13, 2016
Conducted by Triton Polling & Research
Report Author: Robert S. McCaw
CAIR Director of Government Affairs Department
Commissioned by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
453 New Jersey Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20003
Tel 202.488.8787 Fax 202.288.0833
Produced by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Updated: July 2015
What is Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)?
In part due to the field's recent expansion, there is no consensus definition of CVE, including from the administration. One working definition is "the use of non-coercive means to dissuade individuals or groups from mobilizing towards violence and to mitigate recruitment, support, facilitation or engagement in ideologically motivated terrorism by non-state actors in furtherance of political objectives."
CVE components include intervening in an individual's path toward violent extremism, interdicting in criminal activity and reintegrating those convicted of criminal activity into society.
Isn't CVE a good thing?
The government's CVE initiative raises many issues. They include concerns that government-led CVE is not an effective use of public resources, that it often relies on subjective measures and its efficacy is questionable. Observers note that CVE is generally driven by news events, that the current program exclusively targets American Muslims and find that claims that the government is targeting all forms of violent extremism are inconsistently supported. There are arguments that the current CVE initiative undermines our national ideals, such as government not having a role in the free exercise of religion.
July 23, 2014
by Robert McCaw
Good afternoon. My name is Robert McCaw and I am the government affairs department manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
CAIR appreciates this opportunity to address the PCLOB and provide its views and recommendations on what civil liberties issues the board should address in its mid-term and long-term agenda.
A number of the issues I raise today take into account the troubling impacts of certain national security programs on the privacy and civil liberties rights of Arab, South Asian, Muslim, and Sikh Americans.
Recent leaks in national and foreign press have revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA), in cooperation with the FBI, is covertly carrying out at least two nationwide surveillance programs which collect information on the private calls and online activities of U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents alike while targeting foreign nationals. These programs are being carried out in secret partnership with some of the nation's top telecommunications and internet and technology companies.
Through secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) orders the federal government is obtaining, without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing, data from millions of American Verizon Business Network Services customers and user account information from Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.
On June 5, The Guardian exposed a top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order that authorized the NSA to collect data on Verizon customers "on an ongoing daily basis," which included calls made "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls."
The Guardian described the surveillance program as collecting "information gathered as you use technology ... [That] generally does not contain personal or content-specific details." Examples of such metadata include phone numbers between parties on a call, as well as timestamps, GPS location signatures, call duration, and other unique identifiers -- but not the names of persons participating in the calls (although such information is easily attainable) and the content of their conversations.
During recent congressional hearings, NSA officials testified that under the current Verizon surveillance program, such metadata is retained for a period of five years.
On June 6, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security internet surveillance program overseen by the NSA to collect broad customer data from participating internet and technology companies. Collected data includes information on personal emails, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, logins, and details on online social networking.
Established under the authorities granted by section 702 of FISA, civil liberties groups contend that PRISM exceeds its congressionally intended purpose to only collect information on non-U.S. persons residing overseas.
Contradictory accounts exist on how PRISM actually gathers the data it collects from participating internet and technology companies. The NSA has either direct access to the servers of these companies, a claim denied by Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, access to remotely secured file drop-boxes, or other mechanisms. CAIR questions the overall constitutionality of the NSA being able to have access to, collect, or store data on the communications of American citizens without any probable cause of wrongdoing.
While it is reported that stored data collected under PRISM cannot be accessed by national security or law enforcement until it becomes relevant to an investigation of a foreign national, once relevant, communications between non-citizens and American citizens, family, friends, academic colleagues, or business partners can become part of a larger investigation.
The White House claims that these separate domestic spying programs are designed to only target "non-U.S. persons outside the U.S." and "minimize ... acquired information about U.S. persons." Rights groups question PRISM's less than stringent standards to protect against unconstitutional privacy breaches. PRISM program safeguards for reviewing collected data are only "designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target's 'foreignness.'"
CAIR has expressed serious concerns over this test. It remains unclear to the public who in the NSA or FBI ultimately decides what constitutes "foreignness" and whether or not discriminatory criteria, such as national origin or religion, are being used in these assessments. CAIR contends that if there is only a 51 percent "certainty" that the targets of surveillance are foreign, that leaves a 49 percent chance of "incidental collection" from American citizens.
Under such loose standards, the incidental collection of details on the communications of American citizens becomes highly probable when targeting foreign nationals. Especially when NSA analysts are trained to collect data on all contacts twice removed from initial targets. While training materials acquired by The Washington Post instruct new analysts to make quarterly reports on such incidental collection of U.S. communications, they add "it's nothing to worry about."
CAIR also questions how long the NSA is able to retain information collected by PRISM. As reported by The Associated Press, "Two decades from now, the government could have a trove of American emails and phone records it can tap to investigative whatever Congress declares a threat to national security."
While some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, CAIR and the civil rights community believes that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ...
CAIR recommends Congress to amend Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to ensure that the unwarranted surveillance of internet activity and phone records from citizens residing in the US is, in fact, illegal and to ensure that violations would be reviewed in a public court.
CAIR recommends for the creation of an investigative committee to reveal the extent and scope of these spying programs, and for a possible inquiry by the congressional ethics committees, depending on the results of the investigation. This should be done with the intent of holding elected officials accountable for their involvement in furthering or enabling this unwarranted surveillance.
CAIR also recommends for this investigation to determine what criteria have been used to collect records, and to determine for how long these records are being stored. Without information regarding these criteria that purportedly establish "foreignness," CAIR remains concerned that these programs have been discriminating against citizens on the basis of religion and national origin.
Legislative initiatives like these are necessary to protect the fourth amendment rights of all American citizens, including members of the American Muslim community which has been subject to unwarranted and discriminatory acts of surveillance for more than a decade.
"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails ... and have not."
"In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent the terrorist -- the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11."
"The NSA's collection of millions of Americans' phone call records is the type of overreach I have warned about for years. Although I strongly believe some authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provide valuable information that helps protect our national security, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that their private information is being swept up."
"We accept that free countries must engage in secret operations from time to time to protect their citizens. Free countries must not, however, operate under secret laws. Secret court opinions obscure the law. They prevent public debate on critical policy issues and they stop Congress from fulfilling its duty to enact sound laws and fix broken ones."
"It's called protecting America."
"One of the things that we're charged with is keeping America safe and keeping our civil liberties and privacy intact. I think we have done both in this particular case."
"We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."
"Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a backdoor for the government to access private user data."
"Also in future gathering of information, minimization is critical. To minimize the information to gathered to protect innocent Americans ... instead of gathering all of the metadata, phone records of one area code to focus on the suspects ... "
" ... we have not yet struck the right balance between the intelligence-gathering needs of the FBI and the privacy rights of Americans."
Braun, Stephen, Anne Flaherty, Jack Gillum, and Matt Apuzzo. "Secret to Prism Program: Even Bigger Data Seizure." The Big Story. The Associated Press, 15 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Team, Guardian US Interactive. "A Guardian Guide to Your Metadata." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 12 June 2013. Web. 24 June 2013.
Isikoff, Michael. "NSA Considers Ending Collection of Data on Americans' Phone Calls." NBC News. NBC, 18 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Gellman, Barton, and Laura Poitras. "U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 07 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Phillip, Abby D. "President Obama: NSA Spying Programs 'Transparent'." ABC News. ABC News Network, 17 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Sullivan, Sean. "NSA Head: Surveillance Helped Thwart More than 50 Terror Plots." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 18 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Lardinois, Frederic. "Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Yahoo, Microsoft, Paltalk, AOL And Apple Deny Participation In NSA PRISM Surveillance Program."
CrunchGov. Tech Crunch, 6 June 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
CAIR's legislative fact sheets from 2012 are below:
You can also access CAIR's 2012 legislative fact sheets.
Submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Testimony Prepared by: Robert S. McCaw
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
453 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 742-6448
Fax: (202) 488-0833
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz and other members of the subcommittee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thanks you for holding this first-ever Senate hearing on the constitutional and counterterrorism implications of targeted drone warfare and respectfully submits this written testimony for your consideration.
CAIR and the American Muslim community unequivocally condemn all acts of terrorism and support our nation's war against al-Qaeda and its allied forces. While pursuing this enemy, we as a nation must ensure that the rule of law and respect for human life is preserved while responsibly targeting al-Qaeda.
Our nation's use of and growing reliance on armed drones in remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia has raised serious questions. Has the administration established a viable legal framework and procedures to oversee the use of targeted drone strikes inside and outside of designated zones of hostility? How is due process upheld for American citizens targeted by lethal drone strikes? What steps has the U.S. government taken to avoid civilian deaths and injuries, and has it compensated victims, their families, or communities when wrongful drone strikes occur?
Openness and transparency are the pillars of democracy. Despite this the Obama administration has publicly struggled with Congress to provide details on the legal framework, procedures and internal guidance governing its lethal drone strike program.
The administration has not disclosed to Congress or the public how it identifies or approves the placement of suspected individuals on "kill lists;" its operating procedures governing the positive identification of targeted individuals, implementation of targeted drone strikes, assessment of drone strike effectiveness, and confirmation of militant or civilian deaths or injuries; or what oversight is built into this process to ensure effectiveness and minimize civilian casualties.
While the administration has provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with classified Justice Department memos on its legal justification for the use of drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda leaders and allied militants, the administration has not provided these memos to the U.S. Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice.
As commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, President Obama claims that his executive authority to lethally target suspected terrorists who pose an "imminent threat" derives from Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force act permits the administration to target "those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States," being al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as "associated forces" as defined by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.
The limit of this executive authority is tested outside of active combat zones in Afghanistan. Between 2004 and 2013, the U.S. has engaged in covert drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and recently Somalia, in which the DoD and CIA have lethally targeted al-Qaeda as well as Pakistani Taliban and others suspected to be militants based on their characteristics and patterns of behavior alone.
Targeting groups and suspected militants other than al-Qaeda and the Taliban has raised significant concern in Congress and the civil rights community over executive overreach and the U.S. pursuing an indefinite war against those not responsible for the events of September 11, 2001.
The American Muslim community firmly repudiated Anwar al-Awlaki's incitement to violence, which began after he left the United States. In addressing the September 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and the attack two weeks later that killed his 16-year-old son Abdurrahman, CAIR was joined by a number of prominent civil liberties organizations in urging Congress and the president to address the constitutional issues raised by the assassination of American citizens without due process of law.
CAIR remains concerned that the administration has not fully informed the nation or allowed judicial oversight of the legal justifications currently being used to kill American citizens abroad. While a few members of Congress have been given access to Department of Justice memos that outline the Obama administration's constitutional and legal justification for the targeted killings of Americans citizens overseas, CAIR believes that greater public transparency and disclosure is needed.
During CIA Director John Brennan's February 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee he reported that the number of civilian casualties caused by U.S. drones strikes each year have "typically been in the single digits."
While the U.S. drone strike program remains classified, the "Year of the Drone" project by the New America Foundation currently estimates that from 2004 to 2013, the U.S. has engaged in 428 drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen that have resulted in 2,439 to 3,982 deaths. Of these 1,982 to 3,251 were classified as militants, 276 to 368 were civilians, and 200 to 330 were unknown.
Media and non-profit organizations have reported that in its first term the Obama administration carried out six times as many lethal drone strikes as the Bush administration in its eight years in office. And while media report that the use of drone strikes is waning in Pakistan, there are an equal number of reports of new drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.
While CAIR does not concede that the Obama administration has the legal authority to use force outside of recognized zones of armed conflict, we are particularly concerned about how the drone program has killed and injured persons with no established connection to terrorism. In pursuing al-Qaeda and its allied forces, the U.S. cannot concede its moral authority by hastily using its lethal weapons and technology to needlessly take lives and injure innocent civilians.
Groups like al-Qaeda seek to capitalize on such preventable mistakes and popular resentment built around civilian casualties. Likewise, civilian and government opposition to drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have been fueled by such civilian deaths that have been judged by local communities to be not "collateral damage" but as reckless and indiscriminant killings by the U.S. government. If drone strikes are meant to cripple organizations like al-Qaeda, then our counter-terrorism programs should not be used to inspire the next generation of militant leaders.
With regards to establishing a more transparent and accountable legal framework under which the U.S. targeted drone strike program can reasonably operate, CAIR recommends that Congress:
With regards to the high number of civilian casualties, CAIR recommends that Congress seek clarification from the administration in the following areas:
CAIR looks forward to Congress exerting its authority over the administration to hold the executive branch responsible for establishing transparent and accountable guidelines and procedures that better define the U.S. drone program's legal framework. We hope that this program can be used to effectively combat al-Qaeda and its allied forces without sacrificing the rule of law, due process, or the goodwill of civilian populations.
(January 1, 2013)
In the 113th congressional session, support and co-sponsorship legislation similar to the Safe School Improvement Act of 2011. If signed into law, such a bill would: