Senate Homeland Security Committee Hearing Examines Terrorist Recruitment in U.S. Prisons

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman, today held a hearing to examine the evolving threat of home-grown terrorists in America’s prison system. A new report from George Washington University and the University of Virginia, released during today’s hearing titled “Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization,” is one of the first to address radicalization, particularly religious radicalization, in U.S. prisons. Witnesses who testified at the hearing included the co-authors of this report, Associate Vice President for Homeland Security at George Washington University Frank Cilluffo and Associate Professor of Research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Gregory Saathoff.

The hearing exposed the risk of terrorist recruitment within America’s federal, state, and local corrections facilities, which provide fertile grounds for radicalization and recruitment efforts by groups inspired by but not directly linked to Al Qaeda. It also highlighted our need to learn more about the process of radicalization and determine how prison authorities can identify the teachings that incite violence while respecting the right of inmates to have access to religious materials.

“This is an emerging threat to our nation’s security. For the past five years, our homeland security efforts have made it increasingly difficult for foreign terrorists to infiltrate and operate in the United States. These efforts do not, however, protect us from ‘home-grown’ terrorists,” said Senator Collins. “This is an issue with profound national security implications that reach into every state and many cities throughout America. We must find a way to bring every level of government with a corrections system into a unified effort that addresses our national security while respecting the autonomy and authority of the individual jurisdictions.”

“Since September 11, we’ve spent billions of dollars to prevent terrorists and their tools of destruction from entering the country and we need to do more. But we must also work to protect our country against the next attack –– terrorism spawned right here among us,” Senator Lieberman said. “Today’s hearing helped raise awareness of the threat of homegrown terrorism, and highlighted prisons as a potential target for radical groups. The report helped us understand that to control this threat we must address a number of factors, including the sharing of information between government entities, and expanding our outreach to our cultural and religious communities. In this ever-changing war on terror, we must remain actively vigilant against all threats.”