Posted by Kristin McCarthy on November 03, 2016 in Blog

While the U.S. government continues to promote its “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) agenda to combat ISIS recruitment in the United States, we were told this week that the Department of Justice is cancelling one of its core programs. Called “Shared Responsibility Committees” (SRCs), this program was conceived and beta-tested by the FBI earlier this year. However, there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that SRCs may have been cancelled in name only.

Initial news of the SRC program was leaked via a letter sent to prospective SRC employees. In subsequent meetings between government stakeholders and Arab & Muslim community groups, SRCs were explained as an FBI intervention program created to give law enforcement an alternative to criminal arrests. In theory, if the FBI suspected an individual was going to become a domestic terrorist (by which the FBI implies a connection to terrorist groups claiming an association with Islam) but had not yet committed a crime, the FBI can refer that person’s case to a “Shared Responsibility Committee” instead of waiting for a crime to be committed and arresting that person.

We’ve seen some – but not many – heart wrenching stories of who SRCs are seeking to reach; like the story of Adam Shafi, whose father repeatedly tried to prevent from joining ISIS in Syria, or Mohammad Hamzah Khan who tried to take his young siblings with him to the ISIS battlefield.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

For AAI and the many of the advocates we worked with, our concerns were never with the intentions of the government servants hoping to intervene earlier in cases like these. Throughout our conversations with the administration about what SRCs would look like in practice, we asked three critically important questions: should the FBI engage in predictive policing; does the scale of the problem SRCs address warrant an expensive nation-wide program; and, can the government do so effectively and legally? We never received satisfactory answers to any of these questions, and we suspect that is because the answer to all of them is a complicated “no.”

It’s easy to see why the Department of Justice decided to put an end to the FBI’s program. However, we must question if the SRCs that were reportedly launched earlier this year are in fact suspended. According to FBI Director James Comey at least 3 to 5 SRCs were launched by May 2016, and through at least three anecdotal stories – we believe that the FBI has not abandoned the SRC model.

As described in a letter from the FBI to prospective SRC members, the program was to have the following key characteristics: an SRC was to be composed of a multi-disciplinary group; it was to be formed voluntarily in local communities sometimes at the encouragement of the FBI; and the group was to take referrals from the FBI in order to design and recommend an intervention plan for individuals considered potential violent extremists.

After the arrest of Mahin Khan in Arizona, we learned from his father that the boy had been meeting with the FBI, mental health professionals, academic tutors, and community mentors for years. These ad hoc intervention measures are precisely the work SRCs sought to formalize.

In Los Angeles, we know that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is participating in a program called RENEW (Recognizing Extremist Network Early Warnings). This program refers non-arrest cases from the Joint Terrorism Task Force to a team created by the LAPD and the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. The team assesses referred cases and recommends what type of intervention would best fit.

While we welcome the Department of Justice’s announcement that the SRC program has been cancelled, we question whether this cancellation has been effectively implemented by the FBI on the ground. Arizona and Los Angeles are the only two examples we know about. There is not only a severe lack of clarity on how the government continues to support SRC programs that were rolled out earlier this year, but also how the government continues to initiate new intervention programs by another name.

Without further information there is nothing that we can celebrate, criticize, or help improve.

 


 Kristin McCarthy is the Policy Director at the Arab American Institute. You can follow her on Twitter @krstnmccrthy

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