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Former NYPD Head of Intelligence Analysis Uses Boston Bombing to Revive ‘Radicalization’ Report He Co-Authored

Mitchell Silber at New America Foundation on January 31, 2012

In the aftermath of the Boston bombing, US media organizations have been providing a platform to a former New York Police Department head of intelligence analyst and co-author of a heavily critiqued and rejected report on the radicalization of Muslims in the West. He has been on CNN and Fox News sharing his views and was also quoted by Judith Miller, former New York Times journalist who had a story celebrating the NYPD published by the Wall Street Journal.

Cable news appearances by Mitchell Silber, now a managing director for K2 Intelligence, have focused on what he thinks the attack by Dhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two ethnic Chechen Muslims who immigrated to America, shows about “homegrown terrorism.”

During “Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees” on April 26, Silber was introduced as someone who “wrote a report about the threat of home-grown terrorists, citing the biggest threat coming from ordinary citizens who become radicalized in the west, specifically Muslims. It generated controversy.”

CNN correspondent Mary Snow said the NYPD has “come under criticism for monitoring Muslims but the department insists everything done is within a legal framework.” She added, “Silber stresses that keeping tabs on suspicious behavior can potentially track down a lone wolf. He points out that in the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, questions from Russia about his travel there as well as being asked to leave a mosque would have put him on the radar of the NYPD. He says there are other personal changes that can be warning signs of radicalization.” For example, according to Silber, Tamerlan “gave up boxing because that was considered a secular activity.”

“Silber says social networking sites and chat rooms are often enablers and strengthen the radicalization process. All of it funneling through the NYPD’s counterterrorism search for a needle in a haystack,” Snow shared.

When the report was over, Cooper was fascinated. “It’s really interesting, that idea that there are certain sort of common markers that might indicate someone going down the road of increased radicalism, and these are all things that the NYPD tries to look out for, things like causing disruption at a mosque or leaving a mosque or social media networks, things like that.” Except, it is not, really, because this theory for rooting out “homegrown terrorists” is deeply flawed.

There is no “religious conveyor belt” where a person, like a Muslim, goes from a peaceful law-abiding citizen or resident of the United States to one, who is committed to violence against America. A Brennan Center for Justice report, “Rethinking Radicalization,” thoroughly debunks this theory that “the path to terrorism has a fixed trajectory and that each step of the process has specific, identifiable markers.” It deconstructs this widespread belief in law enforcement, made popular by the NYPD, that by “closely monitoring the communities deemed susceptible to radicalization, law enforcement officials can spot nascent terrorists and prevent future.”

Former CIA case officer and psychologist Marc Sageman, who analyzed 500 cases in a study of how individuals “evolve into terrorists,” found,” according to the Brennan Center, “No linear progression from one stage to the next and that ‘[o]ne cannot simply draw a line, put markers on it and gauge where people are along this path to see whether they are close to committing atrocities.” The Rand Corporation also has done research for 14 years and found “no single pathway towards terrorism exists, making it somewhat difficult to identify overarching patterns in how and why individuals are susceptible to terrorist recruitment as well as intervention strategies.” It is next to impossible to “identify the smaller sub-set of individuals,” who will commit violence and isolating them is “often a matter of happenstance.” And, a Department of Homeland Security academic study on the “pathways to terrorism and political violence” concluded that there is no “trajectory profile,” but rather “many different paths.”

“Some of these paths do not include radical ideas or activism on the way to radical action, so the radicalization progression cannot be understood as an invariable set of steps or ‘stages’ from sympathy to radicalism,” author of the Brennan Center report, Faiza Patel, wrote. Even the Defense Department has conceded that, “Identifying potentially dangerous people before they act is difficult. Examinations after the fact show that people who commit violence usually have one or more risk factors for violence. Few people in the population who have risk factors, however, actually [commit violent acts].”

Thus, the more fascinating aspect of all this, Anderson Cooper, might be how the NYPD’s theories on “homegrown terrorism” are permitted to influence American perceptions when they are wrong.

*

Media who give voice to Silber and anyone with an interest in defending the NYPD are implicitly endorsing surveillance and profiling practices that include infiltrating Muslim businesses, student groups and places of worship, tactics which chill free speech and activism in Muslim communities—if they do not challenge their theories on “homegrown terrorists.”

None of the effects of surveillance or profiling on Muslims are bothersome to Miller. She parrots the message of Silber that the NYPD’s techniques in detecting “homegrown terrorists” and how the NYPD would have stopped Tamerlan.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."