Officials Detail Plan To Fight Terrorism At Home The Obama administration's new approach treats the threat as a public safety issue, like drugs or gangs. It aims to enlist local officials for help in spotting potentially violent extremists.
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Officials Detail Plans To Fight Homegrown Terrorism

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Officials Detail Plans To Fight Homegrown Terrorism

Officials Detail Plans To Fight Homegrown Terrorism

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Later today, the White House will unveil a broad, new strategy aimed at battling homegrown terrorism here in the United States. Many recent terror plots have come from inside the U.S., from violent extremists who get radical ideas from the internet. And the administration wants to head off those plots. We're going to talk about that this morning with NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, who has details about the plan that others have not yet reported.

Dina, good morning.


INSKEEP: So why is the White House focused on this aspect of the threat right now?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the things that used to flag law enforcement to possible terrorists, you know - traveling overseas for training or large money transfers - those aren't triggered by these homegrown terrorists. If someone's watching violent jihadi videos on his computer in the basement, it's pretty hard for law enforcement to know about that. I spoke with the administration's chief counter-terrorism official, John Brennan, and here's how he described the goal for the new strategy.

JOHN BRENNAN: What we have to do is to be prepared for the different types of approaches that al-Qaida is pursuing. The large attacks, the small attacks, the groups...

TEMPLE-RASTON: ...the administration's chief counterterrorism official, John Brennan, and here's how he described the goal of the new strategy.

BRENNAN: What we have to do is be prepared for the different types of approaches that Al-Qaida is pursuing; the large attacks, the small attacks, the groups that are operating together, and the individuals that, again, may be vulnerable to these types of entreaties.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's the idea and you've got details of the plan to counter those threats. What have you got?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, basically they are looking to work at the local level. The White House is really sensitive to the civil liberties issues all this might raise. So, part of the plan has the Department of Homeland Security stepping up its community outreach to talk about protecting people's rights in the communities. They're going to be enlisting schools and community leaders in this, and they're going to teach them to identify violent extremists so they can be stopped.

What's different here, is that the administration has identified these unusual partners to help them - the Department of Education, for example.

INSKEEP: Yeah, getting federal law enforcement to work with schools is a little bit unusual.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It's an odd mix, but a lot of the agencies and groups in this plan have never participated in national security issues before. You know, they've worked with law enforcement on drugs and gangs and bullying. But the idea is to make spotting violent extremism just another extension of those familiar programs. The strategy isn't going to be seamless. It's going to require training people to know what to look for, of course.

INSKEEP: Which is really a complicated thing here, Dina Temple-Raston. Following your own reporting, you have looked at some of the training that the FBI and other agencies have tried to do in this area. Some of it has ended up going wrong. Some it has ended up focusing on Muslims in general, rather than specific people who might be of interest.

So, are people confident that they know how to interact with the community - interact with schools, anybody else they might deal with?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this might be the problem. I mean the White House says they have a training review and standards, or they'll put standards in place by the spring to take care of these earlier problems. And the Department of Homeland Security is supposed to start evaluating experts, which they didn't do before, to weed out this anti-Muslim bias.

I mean, if there's a weak link in this new strategy, the training component is probably it. Teaching people to identify extremist behaviors, as you say, could be hard and there could be lots of room for error there.

INSKEEP: Oh, gosh. And I'm even thinking about the advertisements, signs that you see in airports and train stations that say: If You See Something, Say Something. But, of course, what is this something? What are we supposed to be looking for exactly?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, I spoke with this the key person on the White House National Security staff, who's working on this. His name is Quintan Wiktorowicz. And here's how he explained it.

DR. QUINTAN WIKTOROWICZ: So, for example, it could be a combination between viewing that kind of violent extremist material online. At the same time as making statements that indicate a rejection of American society, hatred toward other groups. But again, none of those would be in isolation from one another; it would be the combination of factors.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So, the key distinction here, is that they are going to be trying to track behavior, not ethnic or religious identity. And the new strategy - they're supposed to unveil this afternoon -would enlist whole communities to help them, not just law enforcement.

INSKEEP: And looking for a combination of things; just going on to a particular website doesn't necessarily mean anything. Just dressing a particular way or having a particular religion doesn't mean anything in particular.


INSKEEP: Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has some details this morning about this new White House counterterrorism strategy.


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