WSJ op-ed on countering online radicalization in the United States
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed today entitled “The Homegrown Jihadist Threat Grows,” which I co-authored with my former boss from my time working for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
In the piece, we argue that the United States needs a strategy for countering online recruitment and radicalization of Americans by terrorist groups, especially in light of ISIS’s very active profile on the Internet and the success that they have been having using these tools, highlighted most recently in the case of the two lone actor terrorist attacks in Canada this week, both of which appear to have been inspired by ISIS’s online propaganda.
The piece addresses an issue that had been a long-standing concern of Senator Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins when they led HSGAC, dating back to a staff report that they released in May 2008 entitled “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat.” In that report, they noted:
…the U.S. government has not developed nor implemented a coordinated outreach and communications strategy to address the homegrown terrorist threat, especially as that threat is amplified by the use of the Internet. According to testimony received by the Committee, no federal agency has been tasked with developing or implementing a domestic communications strategy.
Nearly three years later after the release of this report, in 2011, the Administration had promised to develop a strategy that was responsive to this recommendation, in its Strategic Implementation Plan for countering violent extremism. That document promised that the Administration would develop a separate strategy focused on radicalization and violent extremism:
The SIP specifically addresses the online arena in several sub-objectives, but because of the importance of the digital environment, we will develop a separate, more comprehensive strategy for countering and preventing violent extremist online radicalization and leveraging technology to empower community resilience that considers: (1) the latest assessment of the role of the Internet; (2) the absence of clear national boundaries in online space and the relationship between international and domestic radicalization to violence; (3) relevant legal issues; and (4) the differing authorities and capabilities of departments and agencies.
Nearly three more years have passed since the release of SIP, we still don’t have this strategy, in spite of promises that were made to the Senator in 2012 about this, as the WSJ piece details. The White House did release a blog post on this issue in February 2013, but it fell short of addressing the issues that the strategy had promised to cover.
Admittedly, this is a challenging set of issues to address, given legitimate concerns about protected 1st Amendment activity and domestic propaganda by the government, and any efforts in this area of online counter-messaging are only part of a broader strategy to prevent and disrupt homegrown terrorism. But given the sharp focus that ISIS and other terrorist groups have on using the Internet to recruit and radicalize, and given what we have seen this week in Canada as a harbinger of what can also happen here, it is imperative that more be done in this area, including by finishing and releasing the promised strategy on this issue.