In today’s Star Tribune Stephen Montemayor takes up the fate of the Minnesota edition of the Obama administration’s Countering Violent Extremism Program. The Obama administration’s approach to the problem of radical Islamic terrorism was fraught with stupidity and euphemism. The Trump administration has reform of CVE on its plate.
Montemayor takes up the subject with the local angle in his article “As Washington debates how to counter terrorism, Minnesota groups press ahead.” Montemayor sets up their criticism by reference to Rep. Ron DeSantis to Minnesota this past December (links in original):
Domestic efforts to curb homegrown terrorism are under fresh scrutiny from the Trump administration and Congress, placing Minneapolis at the center of a new national debate over whether they are working — or should even continue.
Early signals from Washington point to a greater emphasis on law enforcement, with some elected officials saying the federal government should use its core anti-extremism program to expand intelligence gathering in immigrant and refugee communities.
DeSantis, who visited Minnesota last December, railed against existing federal policy for not properly focusing on “radical Islamic extremism.”
Montemayor quotes a total of eight words from the linked opening statement made by Rep. DeSantis at the hearing. You’d never know that Rep. DeSantis’s characterization of Minnesota as “ground zero for terorrist recruitment” refers to the House report on foreign fighters joining ISIS. The House report recognized Minnesota’s contribution of 26 percent of the American fighters joining ISIS. Minnesota ranked number 1. That’s what DeSantis was talking about.
Montemayor omits this, for example:
Minneapolis is a particularly troublesome area, as it is a major center of Islamic terrorist activity.
The region is home to the largest concentration of Somali refugees and is the epicenter for domestic radicalization.
From 2007 to 2015, over 20 Somali-Americans are known to have left Minnesota to join the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia.
Over the last three years, federal prosecutors have charged 13 individuals from Minnesota for connections to the Islamic State.
Minnesota is second only to New York, which has four times as many residents, in number of ISIS terrorists charged.
Montemayor also omits Rep. DeSantis’s critique of CVE, Obama style (emphasis in original):
The Department of Homeland Security leads the governments Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts. CVE refers to “proactive actions to counter efforts by extremists to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence.”
Currently, the Department still promotes Obama-era policies related to CVE.
Guidance developed under the Obama Administration specifically limits any intelligence or law enforcement investigative activity through CVE.
By leaving this information on the table, CVE efforts are missing opportunities to identify and disrupt terrorist plots.
Obama-era guidance also fails to properly identify the immediate threat of radical Islamic extremism.
The nearly 4,000 word October 2016 CVE strategy does not mention radical Islamic terrorism at all.
The Obama Administration’s CVE strategy also relied heavily on non-governmental organizations with vague and immeasurable goals.
One week before President Trump’s inauguration, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the grant recipients of $10 million appropriated by Congress for CVE efforts.
Their selections reflect a preference for working through community-based organizations, some with questionable programs and immeasurable goals.
For example, the Obama Administration selected for funding an organization who suggested countering violent extremism through “collaborative songwriting, multimedia, and performance.”
Another suggested hiring college students to make video games.
This was not a serious attempt to stop the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.
It’s a shame Montemayor didn’t find room in his article for any of this. Star Tribune readers might have learned something. Montemayor quickly moves on to various “community leaders who work directly with Somali and Muslim youths.” They are “outraged” by DeSantis’s “philosophy.”
Montemayor also turns to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. Stanek is offered as a voice friendly to reform of the CVE program in the direction of law enforcement. His office recently received a CVE grant to support “terrorism prevention training and engagement.” Holding elective office in Hennepin County, Stanek is big on community relations. Montemayor writes: “Stanek said the new CVE funds, announced in June, will allow his office to add up to four community liaison workers and convene more public meetings with East African mothers to discuss youth recruitment by overseas terror groups.”
Stanek seems to credit information from inside the Somali community with assisting the apprehension of the “Minnesota men” convicted last year of seeking to join ISIS and conspiring to commit murder overseas. Montemayor quotes Stanek: “The community had an outlet to tell us who was going.”
I don’t know what Stanek is talking about. I sat alongside Montemayor through the trial of the three “Minnesota men” who who contested the charges against them. The case was based entirely on long-time surveillance run by the FBI without any support from inside the Somali community (with the exception of the co-conspirator who turned informant after he was called before the grand jury and shown the evidence against him). At trial we saw no one from inside the Somali community who lent a hand to law enforcement.
I met with Rep. DeSantis when he visited Minnesota this past December. I am grateful for his efforts to turn a spotlight on the national security issues raised by Minnesota’s Somali community. I reached out last night for a comment from Rep. DeSantis on Montemayor’s article. He responded:
Terrorism is a law enforcement and national security issue. CVE programs which spend taxpayer money on things like “collaborative song-writing” do not address the threat of radical Islamic terrorism or protect the American people; they simply waste money and further political correctness. My trip to Minnesota made clear that federal law enforcement has its hands full when it comes to combating terrorism here at home, particularly in high-risk places like Minneapolis. As Raheel Raza made clear at our hearing, any successful counterterrorism strategy must recognize the ideological driver of terrorism — militant Islam — and dispense with willful blindness. My hope is the the Trump administration will reorient our approach to fighting terrorism along these lines.
DeSantis’s comments at the hearing and in response to me sharpen the issues considerably. I wonder why Montemayor couldn’t find room for what Rep. DeSantis had to say beyond the eight words with which he introduces his story.