A few years ago, there was a buzz among security analysts and policy makers in the US and elsewhere that the Trump administration was on the cusp of adopting a strategy that would “reduce the threat of Islamic State and other violent extremist groups by increasing the use of counterterrorism tactics against the radical Islamist ideology and ideology-motivated groups that are increasingly gaining influence in the region.”
While that seemed like a good idea, the strategy had yet to materialize.
Instead, the Trump White House chose to go with a more aggressive approach, relying more heavily on military and intelligence operations to tackle domestic extremism.
The White House’s approach had a chilling effect on the global fight against terrorism, leading to a drop in funding and the appearance of a more militarized US posture.
In addition, the administration’s approach led to a backlash among civil liberties advocates who feared that it would be used to justify a crackdown on American Muslims and other Muslim Americans.
“There’s a long history of these kinds of actions being used by the Trump administrations to undermine and suppress the First Amendment rights of the Muslim community,” Ali Hamed, a professor at Columbia University, told the Guardian.
“And there’s also a long tradition of these types of policies being used to suppress other kinds of dissent.”
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the US government moved to beef up its anti-terrorism efforts.
A new strategy called “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, was launched in January 2017 and was designed to target “the core threats to America’s security and liberty.”
The strategy called for increasing the number of agents and officers in the federal government to 400,000 from its current roughly 300,000.
The new strategy also required the creation of a national counter-radicalization program and increased the budget for a domestic intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
The new strategy was also intended to make the Bureau more “domestic-focused,” with the goal of bolstering local intelligence, including by “reinforcing local partnerships to counter extremist recruitment, recruiting, and propaganda campaigns,” according to a draft of the new strategy obtained by Mother Jones.
The strategy also created the Bureau’s Countering Violent Ideology and Engagement Office, which “will be tasked with identifying and countering violent extremist propaganda and recruitment efforts.”
The strategy included increasing the Bureau “to deploy agents in the U.S. and abroad to combat violent extremist ideologies and ideology,” including “assessing and assessing threats of domestic extremism in the United States and abroad,” according the draft.
By February 2018, the President announced the creation in the National Security Strategy of a new bureau that would focus on countering violent extremism and that included a plan to increase the Bureau to 1,000 officers.
The goal of the bureau was to “provide operational, technical, and financial support to counter violent extremism,” according a statement from the White House.
At the same time, the White Congress passed a new law that increased the Department of Homeland Security’s budget from $5 billion to $10 billion.
The plan, titled the Domestic Countering Extremism Strategy Act of 2018, authorized the Department to “increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and support to local law enforcement agencies, as well as support for the Countering Radical Islamic Terrorist [sic] Countering Operations Center.”
According to The New York Times, the law “also authorized the establishment of the Domestic Terrorism Information Sharing Center, which would provide assistance to local and state law enforcement and other agencies to share information with each other and with the Department’s counterterrorism partners.”
The DHS is an entity with “an extraordinary responsibility for countering violent radicalization and the threat posed by domestic extremists,” according its mission statement, and the new law increased that role.
On June 3, 2019, Trump signed an executive order that created the Domestic Security Coordination Council, a “multi-agency, multi-disciplinary task force to promote the strengthening of homeland security by strengthening cooperation among law enforcement, homeland security, and intelligence agencies and intelligence community partners.”
While the executive order was designed specifically to target domestic extremists, it also created a new domestic intelligence unit within DHS that would provide “training, technical assistance, and assistance in the analysis and collection of intelligence on domestic terrorist activities, including individuals or groups engaged in domestic violent extremism, and to develop and implement programs to enhance intelligence collection capabilities.”
Despite the DHS’ increased domestic spying powers, the new counterterrorism strategy did not change much.
Instead of focusing on domestic terrorism, the policy was more focused on “domestically violent extremism.”
At first, the FBI was given more oversight of the domestic terrorism strategy, but in the end, it was the DOJ and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) that carried out the bulk of the bulk collection of domestic intelligence.
While there is no data available on how many of the newly minted “countering violent extremism” agents have been assigned to counter radicalization, there is