01 February 2008

Violent Radicalization Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007

I promised a blog on this. I think I calmed down, or not. It's long anyway because I looked at the actual bill. (yes, someone has to actually read the bills these people pass, especially when they change the rules so there's no debate).

This type of bill goes back to the passage of the Patriot Act and the type of activity goes back to 1798 and John Adams. More famously, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, headed by McCarthy supposedly to root out communists and communist sympathizers. But mostly to elect and re-elect McCarthy as a populist image. For whatever reason, it is decidedly more popular to appear pro-security (painted politically as anti-terrorism) than it is to respect the highest laws of our country and those idealized and even emulated around the world. This has been true for several years. Congress is far more prone to vote for the passage of items with the stated intention of restricting liberties solely on the basis that the law is supposedly a necessary anti-terror device for the security of our national interests. Overwhelmingly.

I've read quotes on occasion where some reservations were expressed about the legality of the bill they just voted on, essentially hoping the courts would over-turn it. This is difficult to do however because the government has a vested interest in keeping their intelligence and intelligence gathering apparatus secret. So what are we left with? We have to then examine the possibility, the stated intention, that these measures would enhance our security without drastically undermining our liberties. I can find no way in which they enhance security. HUAC did little to suppress communism at large and mostly found and blacklisted some high profile members of the media (Hollywood) for being 'too liberal' or otherwise appearing sympathetic to communist causes. It was found at the time that the abusive manner of operation and conduct of the committee was over-stepping boundaries by not affording witnesses any defense of their character while it was assassinated publicly and eventually was successfully challenged and shut down.

So what are we dealing with this time? The specter of danger has always been a shadow of American consciousness from the savage Indian to the savage Muslim. It has changed characters but the theme remains. Over-hyped dangers or, more precisely, mis-interpreted dangers brought on by a central arrogance in the American way of life, have dominated national agendas from day one. To compensate, our government has a history of suppressing dissent and discourse on the issue of the day. 1798 the issue was trade and a naval conflict with France. Adams acted to suppress dissent with the Alien and Sedition Acts which were eventually ignored and overturned. But the power of those acts was to jail and imprison people who opposed the government, not people who in someway directly supported a hostile cause. HUAC did not necessarily jail its victims, but it certainly managed to attempt to destroy their ability to work and live in an environment that was considerably hostile to even the appearance of communism. Opposing the activity of HUAC was not an action of communist sympathy, as voting against this legislation might be interpreted as terrorist sympathy today. It was instead an understanding that America has room for dissent and debate, even on ideas that we may not all agree upon or support. Terrorism, despite its power to unsettle and drive fear in a population, has roots which must be debated and understood to defeat it. Making claims that terrorist organizations have agendas, even though they be faulty or extremist dogma, is not a sympathetic claim.

In any case, on to the bill itself.
1)`violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
-- I'm not sure how political, religious or social change is differentiated, especially in a Muslim culture, but okay. I can accept this premise as dangerous to a society because it follows that if one believes violent action is necessary to facilitate change they will act violently. Contrary to their beliefs, violent action is seldom necessary. Unfortunately for us, we are dealing with a population that is indoctrinated such that their own deaths or punishments are irrelevant to their cause (they've got nothing to lose)
2) `homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States , etc, etc
-- I'm familiar with the existence of homegrown terrorism. However, one would think that this sort of thinking would have had greater prominence after say, Oklahoma City. 9/11 was carried out primarily by agents from another country (one we have yet to declare war on). They carry however the distinction of being from a recognizable minority, that being radical Muslims. McVeigh was by contrast an all-American product who was just plain nuts. It's much easier to root out terrorists who don't remind us of ourselves and justify it as, well those people are dangerous but I am not. Keep in mind however that this is carefully worded not to exclude people like McVeigh and does not directly target Muslims as a direct threat to America (as it shouldn't, but this is not a good precedent to find good news from).

There follows a list of findings.
1) The development and implementation of methods and processes that can be utilized to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States is critical to combating domestic terrorism.
-- I have a novel solution, how about we try to understand what's so bad about living in America that violent radicalization is appealing in the first place. And how much 'domestic terrorism' do we really have? I know of plenty of sympathetic thinkers but very few who advocate or even condone violence.
2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.
-- Where? This sentence comes out of nowhere because we haven't seen a rise in 'homegrown' terrorist arrests, detentions, and activity being reported.
3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.
-- This is an ominous sentence. The Internet has also aided in lots of other forms of propaganda. But the general citizenry is not 'constantly' subjected to these unless by choice. Maybe it would be easier to simply keep tabs on these websites as they spring up and watch for active members.
4) While the United States must continue its vigilant efforts to combat international terrorism, it must also strengthen efforts to combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States.
-- Again, who are these people operating within the US.. not defined..not good.
5) Understanding the motivational factors that lead to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence is a vital step toward eradicating these threats in the United States.
-- Finally a real finding that means something useful.
6) Preventing the potential rise of self radicalized, unaffiliated terrorists domestically cannot be easily accomplished solely through traditional Federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts, and can benefit from the incorporation of State and local efforts.
-- This also includes both some useful thinking and some unfortunate uh-oh moments. Many terrorists nowadays are not drawn from the traditional model of a refugee camp, they're self-actualized intellectuals in the Muslim world. Such people can very easily learn about or receive training and conduct operations freely independent of any Osamas. That's useful thinking. Unfortunately 'unaffiliated' could simply mean anyone who we don't like because again, they define very broadly who they're looking for.
7) Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion.
--- Again, this is both good news and bad. No profiling? Maybe that's good, or maybe it's stupid. When the people likely to commit 9-11 style atrocities are all drawn from a particular religion and culture, why aren't we simply saying "hey if you're a Wahabbist Muslim here on an expired or student visa, we're looking for you"
8) Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.
-- Uhm, hooray. I'd like to think this is good, but considering the actions of the government in combating terrorism have not been looked upon with utmost legal standing.. this is probably more of a guideline than an actual hard and fast rule.
9) Certain governments, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have significant experience with homegrown terrorism and the United States can benefit from lessons learned by those nations.
-- Curiously it does not mention the governments of Israel, Pakistan, and Egypt. And wait. .Canada? Australia? They have lots of violent homegrown extremists?

To be fair the actual bill does some good things. I have no problem with coordinating the efforts of local and national law enforcement (which would be nice if they would do with say. .illegal immigration?). There are advantages to that. But I would be more comfortable with it if it was clear what they were cooperating on. And I don't see that we need to write a new law in order to make this happen. Basically, I'm not convinced we need a national commission to study why people become radical and violent activists for a particular cause.

There seems to be a common thread whether it's ELF, PLO, IRA, or just plain people who blow up abortion clinics. They are people who seem to believe that their act is just, or holy, and thus a necessary action. We use the same justification when we declare war on foreign nations. Sometimes it is indeed, just and necessary. Rarely the private wars of these citizens of the world is likewise. While we have done a poor job selling our current war to the public, it is equally clear that our foes have done a masterful job selling it to theirs (though not to anyone else). We should able to figure out why this is without resorting to publicly funded commissions. And we should be able to coordinate our law enforcement by stripping away regulations rather than writing new laws to justify it.
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