With Islamic State threats mounting and at least 100 Americans known to have traveled overseas to train or fight with the brutal terror group, Attorney General Eric Holder this month announced a new program designed to identify and root out sources of "violent extremism" across the nation.
The problem? It isn't a new idea. National security experts say the concept has already proven to be "a complete failure." And lacking from a description of the program is any reference to radical Islam.
In this July 16, 2014 photo, Minneapolis police officer Mike Kirchen talks with Mohamed Salat, left, and Abdi Ali at a community center where members of the Somali community gather in Minneapolis. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department's pilot program will help detect American extremists looking to join terror organizations, but some experts say efforts like these have already failed across the nation (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Jim Gehrz, File)
"These programs will bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders, and United States attorneys to improve local engagement; to counter violent extremism; and – ultimately – to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe," Holder said.
On the surface, it sounds reasonable. Shouldn't we embrace every effort to combat homegrown terror? Jonathan Gilliam, a former Navy SEAL and former FBI special agent said yes. But, he told TheBlaze, programs like these get muddled because the politicians at the top of the food chain stop listening to the operators on the ground.
[sharequote align="right"]"I'm just not sure how much more this program could fail."[/sharequote]
"How can you target something without a scope, without proper sights?" he said. The former special operator finds it especially frustrating that the Justice Department refuses to allow monitoring of mosques where known terrorists gather.
"When political correctness becomes your scope you probably aren't aimed at the right target anymore," Gilliam told TheBlaze.
Without offering details about which cities would host the pilot program, the Justice Department announced that the new concept would "complement the Obama administration's ongoing work to protect the American people from a range of evolving national security threats," and right in line with the White House's 2011 move to strip counterterrorism training documents of specific references to Islam or Muslims, Holder's description of the program gives a rather cloudy explanation for which groups it could cover.
"Under President Obama’s leadership, along with our interagency affiliates, we will work closely with community representatives to develop comprehensive local strategies, to raise awareness about important issues, to share information on best practices, and to expand and improve training in every area of the country," Holder said.
The Department of Homeland Security's website echoes the bland description of "violent extremism" described by the Justice Department: "The threat posed by violent extremism is neither constrained by international borders nor limited to any single ideology. Groups and individuals inspired by a range of religious, political, or other ideological beliefs have promoted and used violence against the homeland."
Gilliam said these political trends make no sense.
"How do you know someone is a 'violent extremist'? They aren't going to walk out into the street and tell you. They are going to patiently wait for instructions at their mosque and coordinate with the network overseas," he said. "To try and say we don't know which neighborhoods or which mosques are active with this kind of activity is a joke."
In the pitch video for the program, Holder explains that since 2012, U.S. attorneys "have held or attended more than 1,700 engagement-related events or meetings to enhance trust and facilitate communication in their neighborhoods and districts," and that the initiative will "build on that important work."
But Patrick Poole, a national security and terrorism expert, said that explains exactly why more of the same won't solve the problem.
"We've already had 100 Americans go overseas to fight for the terrorists ... we've had people conducted suicide attacks for Jabhat al-Nusra, and we have at least two known fighters from Minneapolis and San Diego who died in fighting with ISIS in Syria. I'm not sure more of the same is going to do anything but delay the problem," Poole said.
Poole pointed out the FBI was previously actively conducting outreach missions much like the Justice Department is proposing at the very mosque where the Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended services.
"So the Boston example is a snapshot of how this kind of outreach program has catastrophically failed," Poole told TheBlaze. "What more needs to happen? Foreign intelligence identifies the guy, he's causing trouble at the mosque, and yet no one at the mosque during this outreach effort said anything."
[sharequote align="center"]"How do you know someone is a 'violent extremist'? They aren't going to walk out...and tell you."[/sharequote]
Poole said it seems the Department of Justice is doubling down on a failed concept, but they continue to fail because program coordinators, especially at the top levels, are listening to the wrong people.
"This is the administration's entire plan, this isn't something they are doing in conjunction with something else, this is it, and some groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council say that de-radicalization has to be left entirely to the Muslim community. But I have to ask, what proof is there that this actually works?" he said.
"I'm just not sure how much more this program could fail. It hasn't been successful anywhere, identifiably," Poole said.
Attorney General Eric Holder listens during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, where he announced the Justice Department's civil rights division will launch a broad civil rights investigation in the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Gilliam said the program will never work so long as the federal agencies feel hamstrung by political correctness.
"They'll send 40 investigators to Ferguson, Missouri, to investigate one death, but they'll only send one or two people to question suspicious actors at a mosque known to house terrorist activity? It's crazy."
"They are trying to respond to terrorists with 'culturally diversified speakers,' and that's why it isn't working." Gilliam said community outreach programs could work, but only if there is a real promise of firm justice to back it up.
"If a terrorist is found at a mosque, the only thing that would work is to send 50 investigators in, question everyone, put the Imam away, lock the place down and never open it again," he said.
"You do that, and you go over to their homelands and you lay waste," he added. "That is what works."
The Department of Justice didn't respond to TheBlaze's request for comment on the new pilot program, or whether it had heard any chatter regarding the potential for an increased level of retaliatory attacks now that the U.S. military has begun strikes on Islamic State targets.
TheBlaze TV's For the Record examined the underlying ideology that fuels the Islamic State and the homegrown terrorists it hopes to influence in the United States. The episode, "Total Confrontation," aired Wednesday; catch part of it below:
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