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Chapter VII: The United States Needs A Comprehensive Approach To Countering The Threat Of Homegrown Terrorism

The Hasan case emphasizes the fact that the United States needs to strengthen its defenses against homegrown violent Islamist extremism in order to be sufficiently capable of identifying individuals in our country who are radicalizing to violent Islamist extremism, taking action to deter such radicalization, and disrupting terrorist plots when they arise among such radicalized Americans. There needs to be adequate coordination across federal, state, and local jurisdictions to counter the evolving homegrown terrorist threat. The United States must also carefully consider what types of counterradicalization activity are appropriate, and by whom, and then develop a comprehensive national approach to this challenge. All of this should be done in consultation with Muslim-American communities.

As discussed in Chapter II, the number of cases of homegrown terrorism escalated substantially beginning in 2009. The pace of radicalization encouraged by propaganda on the Internet and by English-speaking terrorist operatives that direct recruiting messages and other encouragement to individuals within the United States that may be radicalizing has increased. So inspired, these violent radicals can initiate operations on their own, with little or no contact with terrorist groups. Many attacks require less sophisticated planning and therefore can be undertaken more rapidly.

Analysis of recent cases shows that a generic profile of a homegrown violent Islamist extremist cannot easily be developed. The only common thread is these individuals' adherence to the ideology of violent Islamist extremism.181

As stated in a September 2010 report by two prominent counterterrorism experts:

The conventional wisdom has long been that America was immune to the heady currents of radicalization affecting both immigrant and indigenous Muslim communities elsewhere in the West. That has now been shattered by the succession of cases that have recently come to light of terrorist radicalization and recruitment occurring in the United States. And while it must be emphasized that the number of U.S. citizens and residents affected or influenced in this manner remains extremely small, at the same time the sustained and growing number of individuals heeding these calls is nonetheless alarming. .

The diversity of these latest foot soldiers in the wars of terrorism being waged against the U.S. underscores how much the terrorist threat has changed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the past year alone the United States has seen affluent suburban Americans and the progeny of hard-working immigrants gravitate to terrorism. Persons of color and Caucasians have done so. Women along with men. Good students and well-educated individuals and high school dropouts and jailbirds. Persons born in the U.S. or variously in Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Somalia. Teenage boys pumped up with testosterone and middle-aged divorcees. The only common denominator appear to be a newfound hatred for their native or adopted country, a degree of dangerous malleability, and a religious fervor justifying or legitimizing violence that impels these very impressionable and perhaps easily influenced individuals toward potentially lethal acts of violence.182

This volatile mix of factors places incredible burdens on our law enforcement and intelligence officers and underscores the need for a coherent and rationalized approach to information-sharing, operational coordination, resource allocation, and overall strategy across federal, state, and local jurisdictions. As discussed above vis-a-vis the Delimitation Agreement, even if M'Fs become true interagency information-sharing and operational coordination mechanisms, they are still only one node — a large and critical node, to be sure — in the nation's overall law enforcement and intelligence network. Other federal entities have their own roles to play, for example DoD in investigating potential counterintelligence threats involving servicemembers and other federal departments investigating activity within their jurisdiction that has terrorist or other national security dimensions. State and local law enforcement also bring resources and expertise. Ensuring integration of all the components of our counterterrorism defenses domestically is an ongoing challenge and requires greater focus by senior government leaders.183

Even so, concentration on law enforcement and intelligence tactics to disrupt terrorists preemptively, prior to their conducting an attack, is important but insufficient. A critical strategic question for the United States is how to counter the spread of violent Islamist extremist radicalization domestically in order to preempt such cases from arising. Without confrontation of the ideology motivating terrorism, there is no reason to believe that the number of homegrown terrorists will abate.184

Consider if Hasan had actually been discharged prior to November 5, 2009: It is unclear that there would have been any way to ameliorate the radicalization of Hasan the civilian to violent Islamist extremism and, if so, which entity or entities across federal, state, or local governments or the private sector would have been the lead. And it is also unclear whether doing so is an appropriate role for law enforcement and intelligence agencies as opposed to other governmental or even non-governmental entities. When law enforcement or intelligence agencies can identify an individual in the process of radicalizing — such as an individual who is communicating [REDACTED] — such agencies may introduce [REDACTED] against the individual. If the individual takes affirmative steps toward engaging in terrorism, then the individual can be arrested. However, if the individual does not actually move forward with terrorist activity, then law enforcement and intelligence agencies have a limited role. A whole­ of-government approach — which taps into the nongovernmental and private sectors — is needed to counter radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism.

The FBI does outreach to leaders and activists in Muslim-American communities to seek to develop trust, address concerns, and dispel myths concerning the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security conducts outreach concerning the civil rights and privacy implications of its policies. State and local governments have the greatest knowledge of their communities by virtue of community policing and the provision of local services. And private groups could provide counterradicalization initiatives through preventative education and post hoc deprogramming similar to the work of anti-cult groups. Although there is a nascent effort within the Executive Branch, the United States is missing the coherent architecture of policies, programs, partnerships, and resources that will engage in the ideological struggle and counter the growth of homegrown terrorism.


The United States is confronted by a growing threat of homegrown terrorism but lacks sufficient capability to identify individuals in our country who are radicalizing to violent Islamist extremism, to deter such radicalization, and to disrupt terrorist plots when they arise.


We request that the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council in coordination with state and local officials ensure a comprehensive approach to countering the threat of homegrown terrorism.

First, this effort would include leadership by the Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence to ensure an integrated law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security approach domestically.

Second, we request that the federal government (1) carefully consider what types of counterradicalization activity could be effective, and by whom, across federal, state, and local governments and the private sector and then (2) develop a national approach to this challenge utilizing all relevant federal agencies including those not traditionally part of counterterrorism. That approach should be implemented into specific, coordinated, and measurable programs across the government. A system could then be developed to measure compliance with those plans, and regular reports of the success of those programs could be made to the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.

181 - Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, Report of the National Security Preparedness Group: Assessing the Terrorist Threat (September 10, 2010), at 29.

182 - Id

183 - The 319 Group, composed of former senior law enforcement and intelligence professionals, recently concluded, the United States lacks a "systemic, coherent" approach across law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security and that the current "structure is an array of federal, state, and local capabilities, each with its own strengths and weaknesses." America's Domestic Intelligence is Inadequate, at 2, 13, 15.

184 - See J. Scott Carpenter, Matthew Levitt, Steven Simon, and Juan Zarate, Fighting the Ideological Battle: The Missing Link in U.S. Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2010), at 1.

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