I recently had the opportunity to participate at the National Fusion Center Conference in Denver, Colorado. Although the conference sessions are open only to law enforcement members and not the public, vendors and others are invited to showcase their technology and interact with the attendees. As I reviewed the conference agenda and spoke to those in attendance, I noticed that there were a fair number of breakout sessions covering the topic of religious or political radicalization in the United States. One of the key breakout sessions was entitled, “Homegrown Radicalization and Recruitment: A Personal Perspective.” This session, along with the recent series of terrorist attacks (or attempted attacks), got me thinking about how important the NSI (Nationwide SAR [Suspicious Activity Reporting] Initiative) is to law enforcement in becoming better attuned to such pre-operational planning and activity by those native to the United States.
Just by conducting a cursory examination of a few of the more recent terrorist incidents here, it becomes clear that there are many seemingly innocuous incidents every day, such as citizen-reported tips and suspicious behaviors observed by ordinary Americans that could lead law enforcement to early identification of radicalized people bent on terrorism within the United States.
Potentially the Times Square bomber and the Ft. Hood gunman who went on a killing spree could have shown up on law enforcement’s radar screen before they carried out their attacks. They might have been captured as they hatched their plots – and before they injured or killed anyone – if police incident reports, tips, and leads were studied by trained analysts in a methodical, scientific way, and sophisticated software was used to paint a picture or connect the dots.
My realization is that we need the NSI – not so much for international terrorist organizations for which we may not have tips and leads – but instead to prevent home-grown, lone-wolf-type plotters on our own soil from acquiring weapons, material, equipment, and planning terrorist strikes.
As a country, we largely missed the 9/11 terrorist planning because, for the most part, the perpetrators hatched their plans abroad and were not involved in suspicious or overt criminal activities in the United States. Police had very little interaction with the internationally sponsored and funded 9/11 terrorists as they were plotting their activities. Some of their activities were suspicious, no doubt, but not criminal. Home-grown radicalization efforts, however, can be identified by friends, neighbors and co-workers of such radicalized individuals who notice strange behaviors or hear unusual things. They must understand the importance of speaking up and reporting these types of behaviors to authorities. “See Something Say Something” cannot be just another catchy phrase; it must be heeded literally by citizens throughout the country.
Now that we as a country have come to the realization that there is – and has been for quite some time – a homegrown radicalization initiative in the United States, I believe the NSI becomes more important than ever.
I’m pleased that the domestic radicalization topic was front-and-center at the conference because I believe there are some in law enforcement, and potentially in fusion center circles, that think the NSI is a waste of time and too labor intensive to pay attention to. They don’t see the significance or the importance of this program because they won’t be making a lot of arrests as a result of SARs.
The radicalization issue is also a reminder of why there is a great need for law enforcement agencies to automate information gathering and sharing processes and leverage advanced analytics to thwart terrorist activities. One such advanced technique is social media analysis – law enforcement must use tools that allow them to learn about the hatred being spewed and the outright disclosure of planned criminal activity through this newest medium of public discourse.
My attendance at the Fusion Center Conference coincided with a delightful meeting I had recently with noted author Steve Emerson, the foremost authority on Islamic radicalization. I have recently finished his book, American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us, and have begun reading, Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S. Both books should be must-reads for every law enforcement officer and all those interested in protecting our way of life from threats from within.