Privacy SOS

‘Black budget’ shows top spies are still obsessed with debunked ‘radicalization’ theories

I’ll have a lot more to say about Barton Gellman and Greg Miller's story on the ‘intelligence community’ ‘black budget’, but for now I want to point out something very distressing. 

Unfortunately, the top spies still think that formulating some kind of 'path to radicalization' chart is what will help them stop terrorists from attacking the United States.

The intelligence community seems particularly daunted by the emergence of “home grown” terrorists who plan attacks in the United States without direct support or instruction from abroad, a threat realized this year, after the budget was submitted, in twin bombings at the Boston Marathon.

The National Counterterrorism Center has convened dozens of analysts from other agencies in attempts to identify “indicators” that could help law enforcement understand the path from religious extremism to violence. The FBI was in line for funding to increase the number of agents surreptitiously tracking activity on jihadist Web sites.

But a year before the bombings in Boston the search for meaningful insight into the stages of radicalization was described as one of “the more challenging intelligence gaps.”

This is dangerous thinking that leads to profiling and pre-crime style government harassment.

There is no ‘path to radicalization’ and there are no ‘stages of radicalization’ that set apart people who intend to hurt others from people who don’t. This is a fact. You can read lots more about how the FBI’s ‘radicalization’ theories are bunk — and often racially and religiously biased bunk, at that — here, here and here.

The Washington Post 'black budget' report shows us that the 'radicalization' story will not die at the top levels of the US government. That's a travesty, because it leads the police and feds in tragic policy directions that have devastating consequences for real people, and for our society. Just ask Linda Sarsour how it's working out for her and other Muslim New Yorkers.

The radicalization theories, grounded in nothing resembling fact or metrics, are also useless from a public safety perspective. For just one example, all the ‘intelligence community’ mass spying and its pre-crime theories about who is likely to do harm didn’t help the people of Boston on Marathon day this past April. But you know what might have helped the people of Boston? Old fashioned police work that doesn't require routine violations of our rights, like solving murders. Imagine that.

In the name of the Global War on Terror, the government is spending billions and billions of dollars to invade our privacy, desecrate the Bill of Rights, and kill people overseas, even when officials don’t know their names. Meanwhile you are about as likely to be killed by your furniture as you are by a terrorist. 

Surveillance is about control, not security. This incredible expenditure of our tax dollars is not keeping us safe. Instead, it is building us our own individual prison cells. Yes, this is America, so we can design the apps and the wallpaper for our private prisons. But a personally tailored cell freedom does not make.
 
Edward Snowden has peeled back the layers of an out of control system, run by people who appear to think they are above the law and public accountability. Now we are faced with a stark choice: we can roll back the national security state, and reject the fear and demonization of Muslims that it requires, or we can kiss any pretense to living in a democratic society goodbye.
 
We cannot have both.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.