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Countering Domestic Radicalization

Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach
June 22, 2011 |

Executive Summary

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but since the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks the United States and the United Kingdom have significantly altered their counterterrorism programs or created new programs, laws, and institutions to cope with changing understandings of the threat posed by individuals living in the West attracted to al-Qaeda’s cause. While the programs the United Kingdom and the cities of New York and Los Angeles have put in place have varied, police and security officials on both sides of the Atlantic recognize the importance of local communities to the struggle against terrorism and radicalization. Based on evaluations of successes and mistakes from these three cases, the authors have created the following list of “best practices” for domestic counterterrorism and community outreach in the United States:

  1. Reduce the role of government in counter-radicalization programs
  2. Treat Muslim-Americans as citizens, not suspects
  3. Maintain dedicated counterterrorism commands or divisions within law enforcement agencies
  4. Use informants carefully and sparingly, especially in prosecutions
  5. Encourage and enable Muslim-American groups to push back against extremists
  6. Improve counterterrorism education guidelines and standards

These practices are not a panacea and do not aim to encapsulate the entirety of useful counterterrorism practices. Indeed, many techniques must change depending on the local context. Nonetheless, applying these concepts is likely to reduce the occurrence of jihadis being radicalized in the West and improve the chances, over the long-run, that radicalizing terrorists will be observed and disrupted.

For the full text of this 26-page report, please click here.

Brian Fishman is a Counterterrorism Research Fellow with the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program, where Andrew Lebovich is a Program Associate.

The first rule of any counterterrorism policy should be to do no harm. But when harm must be done, the benefits of that policy should outweigh the costs.