(WASHINGTON, D.C., 11/30/2017) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, today submitted a written statement for the record for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on “World Wide Threats: Keeping America Secure in the New Age of Terror.”
While the hearing examined a broad array of current threats to America and work by the federal government to counter these threats, CAIR’s comments primarily focused on: 1) How Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs actively surveil, profile, censor, and divide the American Muslim community; and, 2) Steps Congress, law enforcement and other government agencies can take to better protect the rights of all Americans while keeping America secure.
Written Statement of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
World Wide Threats: Keeping America Secure in the New Age of Terror
Submitted to the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security
November 30, 2017
Prepared by: Corey P. Saylor
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
453 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 384-8787
Fax: (202) 488-0833
Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Thompson, thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony to the record of today’s hearing on keeping our nation safe. While there are many substantive issues to discuss, we will focus this brief testimony on Countering Violent Extremism Programs.
We do this in response to growing congressional calls to expand CVE to include white supremacist groups. Such a move would only serve to legitimate a program that actively surveils, profiles, censors, and divides the American Muslim community.
In September, more than a dozen national Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian civil liberties and human rights organizations, and more than 20 activists, academics and community leaders joined in signing a statement opposing the expansion of the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. In the same period, the Brennan Center for Justice, along with more than 50 other human rights, civil liberties and community-based organizations sent a letter urging leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate to reject proposals to expand existing CVE programs to focus on white supremacist extremism.
Years of research has failed to determine any set of characteristics that identifies pre-terrorists. While academic interviews with people who have committed terrorist acts have resulted in a set of characteristics that describe each individual person, they have not produced a profile or any evidence-based set of predictive characteristics.
In its 2016 Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security conceded, “There is no single cause of or pathway to violent extremism.”
The FBI’s Strategic Plan to Curb Violent Extremism, obtained via a freedom of information act request by the Brennan Center for Justice, concurs: “There is neither one path or personality type, which is prone to adopting extremist views of exhibiting violent tendencies, nor is there a singular path or personality that leaves an individual vulnerable to others who may seek to impress these views or tendencies upon them. There are no individually unique behavioral changes for those who mobilize to violent extremism.”
CVE program results are “not easy to quantify” and “lack meaningful metrics.” A May 2014 National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) document notes that the impact of CVE programs is “not easy to quantify.” After making this qualification, the document’s authors offer a scoring system for measuring an individual’s susceptibility to violent extremism. These include measures such as “Parent-Child Bonding, Empathic Connection,” “Presence of Emotional or Verbal Conflict in Family” and “Talk of Harming Self or Others.” These measures likely encompass most American families at some point, rendering them near useless for the stated goal.
Other measures in the NCTC document, such as “Family Involvement in Community Cultural and Religious Activities,” are problematic as the person filling out the form may subjectively perceive mosque attendance itself as a risk factor.
In 2016, the National Security Critical Issues Task Force at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies concluded, “the lack of meaningful metrics to evaluate CVE initiatives complicates evidence based program design and funding.”
Labeling routine community programming as CVE is problematic and stigmatizing. A government program to combat terrorism disbursed $300,000 in CVE funds to Minnesota community groups in March 2016. The funded projects included “youth sports activities,” “soccer and Somali arts classes for male students,” and efforts to “engage youth” and “address the stigma of mental illness.”
These are important, yet wholly standard community development programs for the empowerment of marginalized and disadvantaged people. Such fundamental services should not be securitized and classified as CVE. Doing so unfairly implies that the participants are an inherent threat to national security.
Most simply stated, “Why does ”˜soccer and Somali arts classes for male students’ constitute a counter-terror program, but the same thing for white youth is simply soccer and art classes?
While appealing in concept, once its problematic details emerge community leaders frequently pull away from CVE. In all three Obama Administration CVE pilot cities, local community leaders who support efforts to secure our nation and engaged in the U.S. attorney-led meetings aimed at shaping local CVE frameworks distanced themselves from the project as they formed a deeper understanding of its problematic realities.
In Los Angeles, both the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization of Mosques and Muslim organizations serving the Muslims of Southern California, and the Muslim Students Association of the West Coast (MSA West), with 27 Muslim Student Associations of West Coast universities as signatories, voted to oppose the narrow scope of the federal government’s CVE program.
In Minnesota, almost 50 Muslim organizations signed on to a statement urging law enforcement to “consider our grave concerns about the government’s proposed [CVE] pilot program in Minnesota and discontinue this stigmatizing, divisive, and ineffective initiative.”
A “top leader of Boston’s Muslim community” opted against the local framework because it targeted only the American Muslim community and was “founded on the premise that your faith determines your propensity towards violence.”
The United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, gathered some 50 U.S. Muslim leaders at a full day forum on CVE that included presentations by both government and civil liberties representatives. Following a discussion of the information presented, the council issued a statement that in part said, “Given the low-level of confidence in government-led CVE, the USCMO believes it is best to identify and support community-driven best practices.”
Opposition to the U.S. government’s CVE initiative does not mean ignoring threats. Opposition to violent extremism is consistent among American Muslim leadership. Former FBI Director Comey, former U.S. Attorney General Holder, former FBI director Mueller and former National Counterterrorism Center Director Leiter have all acknowledged this opposition.
CAIR specifically is a natural enemy of violent extremists. Our record of success discredits violent extremist arguments that minorities cannot receive fair treatment in our nation. Our statements and actions opposing those groups and individuals who claim Islam sanctions terrorism contributed to ISIS including CAIR’s National Executive Director among a short-list of Western Muslim leaders it wants assassinated.
Considerations for Legislators
Follow investigative leads, do not police ideology. Government and other programs to counter violent extremism which incorporate steps for “intervention” can too easily slip into policing ideology. The Establishment Clause prohibits any governmental vilification or endorsement of a particular religious ideology. The government should avoid involvement in questions as to which religious ideologies are acceptable as this defies the First Amendment.
Empower law enforcement to investigate cases where there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Rather than sifting through an entire minority population looking for pre-terrorists, law enforcement should focus on investigating cases where there is evidence of wrongdoing. Check lists of risk factors have no foundation in scientific research. Expecting teachers, mental health professional and other social service providers in identifying pre-terrorists is problematic. Trained FBI agents missed the Boston Marathon bombers and the Orlando Pulse shooter, even though they had investigated both. All this overbroad action will do is produce a mass of false positives. Additionally, placing social service provider into positions of being de facto law enforcement undermines the common trust put in those positions.
Preserve free speech. Free Speech, even when despicable, should be permitted. In the absence of an implied or inferred threat, speech in and of itself should not trigger a report to law enforcement. Community leaders should prepare for difficult conversations in advance. Isolating an at-risk individual, for instance by banning him or her from a facility without any attempt at engaging him or her, may simply drive the individual underground. Subjecting an individual’s views to debate can help them to become aware of alternative viewpoints, facts that conflict with their ideas, or simply help avoid a situation where going on the internet to share their views with like-minded individuals is the only option. In certain community’s fear of surveillance has caused leaders to ban problematic individuals or topics rather than engage them.
Expand government services, but delink this expansion from law enforcement. Governments at all levels can and should expand outreach to all communities, but particularly those who are needy or marginalized, and to provide a host of services include mental health treatment, job training and placement, youth sports leagues and other. However, this should be routine programming and not classified as somehow a national security program. For additional safeguards, law enforcement should not be part of these services. Law enforcement efforts to partner with community groups are too often accompanied by parallel intelligence collection or agent provocateur actions. As CVE expert Humera Khan wrote in Foreign Affairs in February 2015, “Many police departments consider community policing as an avenue for finding informants to help detect rather than prevent criminal activity.” Revelations show that a Minnesota police department applied to the Department of Justice for a grant to fund outreach programs that would have an intelligence gathering component. The Police Chief in Montgomery County, Maryland is reported to view a controversial CVE program in that locality as a “conduit of information.”
Protect Good Samaritans. The U.S. Congress should pass laws, or the Department of Justice (DOJ) should issue guidelines, similar to Good Samaritan laws to protect those who act in good faith to prevent violent extremism by engaging with those considering it in order to dissuade them. DOJ policies should make clear that those who intervene to help others should not suffer for it by being subjected to prosecution, watch-listing or surveillance because of their association with a potential violent extremist.
Ensure clear safeguards and protections to prevent abuse. Programming helping self-identified extremists, such as that which helps white supremacists exist the movement may be helpful. Certainly, in the next few years a number of convicted terrorists will be leaving the prison system and may need counseling. In any CVE program, there must be clear standards and safeguards to prevent abuses. These standards should be reviewed by attorneys with expertise in privacy and civil rights and made available to the public for review.
 Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Groups, activists say expanding CVE to include white supremacists hurts Muslims, “ 9/07/2017, available at: https://www.cair.com/press-center/press-releases/14587-groups-activists-say-expanding-cve-to-include-white-supremacists-hurts-muslim-communities.html
2 Ibid. Original letter available at: https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/citing-civil-liberties-concerns-brennan-center-and-over-50-groups-oppose-expanding-countering
3 Additional examples: “The profiles of individuals involved in ISIS-related activities in the U.S. differ widely in race, age, social class, education, and family background. Their motivations are equally diverse and defy easy analysis.” Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes. ISIS in America: from retweets to Raqqa, George Washington University Program on Extremism, December 2015, available at https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/ISIS%20in%20America%20-%20Full%20Report.pdf. Also, “Tools that purport to have a psychology evidence base are being developed and placed under statutory duty while their ”˜science’ has not been subjected to proper scientific scrutiny or public critique.” Karen Armstrong et al. Anti-Radicalization Strategy Lacks Evidence Based in Science, The Guardian, September 28, 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/29/anti-radicalisation-strategy-lacks-evidence-base-in-science. Also, the recommendation that the UK government ““End the use of empirically unsupported indicators of vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism.” Amrit Singh. Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education, Open Society Justice Initiative, 2016, available at;https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/eroding-trust-20161017_0.pdf.
4 Challgren et al. “Countering Violent Extremism: applying the public health M.odel,” October 2016, available at: http://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/NSCITF-Report-on-Countering-Violent-Extremism.pdf
5 Amy Forliti. “6 Somali organizations receive grants to combat terrorism,” Associated Press, March 10, 2016,
6 FBI Director Comey: “They do not want people committing violence, either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim. Source: Huffington Post, 6/16/2016. Former FBI Director Mueller: “Many of our cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community in the United States.” Source: FBI Director Robert Mueller’s 2008 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Former Attorney General Holder: “Muslim cooperation “has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats.” Source: Attorney General Eric Holder’s December 10, 2010, speech to the Muslim Advocates’ Annual Dinner. Former National Counterterrorism Center Director Leiter: “Many of our tips to uncover active terrorist plots in the United States have come from the Muslim community.” Source: February 9, 2011 hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee.
7 Cora Currier. “Spies Among Us,” The Intercept, !/21/2015, Available at: https://theintercept.com/2015/01/21/spies-among-us-community-outreach-programs-muslims-blur-lines-outreach-intelligence/
8 Hena Zuberi. “Area Masajid Unknowingly Expose Youth to Federal Intelligence Gathering Program,” The Muslim Link, 8/25/2017, Available at:http://www.muslimlinkpaper.com/community-news/4371-muslim-link-exclusive-area-masajid-unknowingly-expose-youth-to-federal-intelligence-gathering-program