WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., warned Thursday that the threat of homegrown terrorism is on the rise, aided by the Internet’s capacity to spread the core recruitment and training message of violent Islamist terrorist groups.
At a morning press conference to release the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee staff report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” the Senators said that as the threat of homegrown terrorism evolves, so too should the government’s response, which must include coordinated and comprehensive strategic communications and outreach efforts.
“The long term goal of the strategy must be to isolate and discredit the ideology as a cause worthy of support,” Lieberman and Collins said in a joint statement. “Federal, state and local officials, as well as Muslin American community and religious leaders and other private sector actors must all play a prominent role in discrediting the terrorist message.”
The report found that as the Internet breaks down physical borders and cultural barriers, permitting easy access to violent extremist ideology, the greater the likelihood that more disaffected people will buy into the global violent Islamist movement.
“The growing use of the Internet to identify and connect with networks throughout the world offers opportunities to build relationships and gain expertise that previously were available only in overseas training camps,” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has testified. “It is likely that such independent groups will use information on destructive tactics available on the Internet to boost their own capabilities.”
The report concluded that the federal government must address key questions such as: what, if any, new laws, resources, and tactics should be implemented to prevent the spread of violent extremist ideology in the United States; how should a counter communications strategy be fashioned and what roles should the government and community and religious leaders play; what is the purpose of current outreach efforts and how can those efforts be improved; and how should local officials and local law enforcement be involved.
The report is part of an ongoing investigation into violent Islamist extremism and homegrown terrorism conducted by the Committee that has included six hearings over the course of nearly two years. Law enforcement witnesses have testified to a growing danger from homegrown terrorism. But the Senators observed that, beyond classified intelligence and law enforcement programs, the federal government has provided “relatively uncoordinated outreach to American-Muslim communities and fragmented communications strategies.”
Last fall, Defense Secretary Robert Gates bluntly observed, “We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.”
In charting the growing threat of homegrown terrorism, the report details how terrorist groups use the Internet to enlist, indoctrinate, and train followers, increase support for their movement, raise money, and plan and execute attacks, allowing “leaders of the movement to talk directly to those who may be vulnerable to the influences of the core terrorist enlistment message without having the ideology filtered through intermediaries, like community leaders or media outlets.”
“The spark for the radicalization process is the core enlistment message that the leaders of the global violent Islamist terrorist movement use to attract followers,” the report said. And the “enlistment message” is at the center of the violent extremist Internet propaganda campaign.
“Today, al-Qaeda manages a multi-tiered online media operation in which a number of production units associated with al-Qaeda or allied violent Islamist organizations produce content consistent with the core terrorist enlistment message,” the report said. “Once content is created… (by the production units) it is then funneled through a clearinghouse before it is posted on the Internet… The propaganda regularly produced by this process finds its way to literally thousands of violent Islamist websites across the Internet… This multitude of websites has become an effective distribution system for the core enlistment message and other content.”
The report found that al-Qaeda and other supporters of violent Islamist ideology have also stepped up their efforts to appeal to English speaking audiences, especially Americans, including specific ethnic, religious, and racial populations in the United States.
“The United States must stay ahead of this threat by pursuing a national strategy to counter the influence of the ideology,” the report said. “This is a critical challenge to the homeland security of the United States, one the U.S. government must work quickly and aggressively to overcome. The safety of the American people depends on it.”
The report can be found here