Earlier today, Governor Tom Kean and Representative Lee Hamilton, the former chairs of the 9/11 Commission, launched a ground-breaking report on “Countering Online Radicalization in America”. Written by ICSR Director Peter Neumann and published by the Bipartisan Policy Center, it lays out a strategy for countering online radicalization while protecting American values.
The full report can be downloaded HERE.
Below is a joint op-ed by Gov. Kean, Rep. Hamilton and Prof. Neumann, which appeared in yesterday’s POLITICO and sums up the report’s key ideas and principles:
A Radical Call Against Online Extremism
By TOM KEAN, LEE HAMILTON and PETER NEUMANN |
Last month, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on cybersecurity, giving the government new powers to defend the United States against online attacks. We support the administration in making cybersecurity a national priority. But this shouldn’t be limited to countering hacking and cyberattacks by foreign governments.
Online radicalization is a new and evolving threat in cyberspace that demands more attention.
That terrorists are using the Internet is not new. The 9/11 Commission report showed that the Sept. 11 attackers used the Internet for searches, to buy airline tickets and book hotels. Yet none of them had been radicalized online. A decade ago, the rise of virtual communities, social networking and the production of near professional propaganda videos were hard to imagine and impossible to predict.
Today, terrorists are using these and other tools to spread their ideas, connect with each other, make new recruits and incite illegal and violent action. In fact, most experts agree that the growing importance of the Internet is the single most important innovation in radicalization since Sept. 11, 2001.
Relevant cases aren’t difficult to find: Maj. Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 on a shooting spree at the U.S. Army based in Fort Hood in November 2009, had sent 20 emails to Al Qaeda leader Anwar Al Awlaki, sharing his thoughts, expressing his admiration and seeking permission to carry out the attack; Michael Page, the neo-Nazi gunman who killed six Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin in August, spent much of his time on white supremacist online forums, posting more than 250 comments, and urging others to act on their convictions; Only last month, four men from Southern California were charged with plotting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. The FBI says they met online and radicalized through discussions on social-networking sites and in jihadist online forums.
Over the past five months, we have studied dozens of cases and spoken to leading experts and policymakers. The result is an extensive report that will be released by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Tuesday. Our conclusion is clear: Online radicalization is here to stay, and future terrorist attacks against the homeland will involve individuals who have been radicalized — at least in part — on the Internet.
The White House agrees with us. In its 2011 counter-radicalization strategy, it promised to “develop a … comprehensive strategy for countering and preventing violent extremism online.” One year later, however, this still hasn’t happened, and our first recommendation is for the administration to complete its work, make the strategy public and begin its implementation.
What should this strategy look like?
Based on our investigation, we believe that measures aimed at “censoring” or “taking down” websites are not only the least desirable due to First Amendment issues, they also are the least effective, and they should not become the central plank of the government’s approach.
Instead, we believe that government should play a more energetic role in reducing the demand for violent extremists’ messages and encourage credible messengers, such as victims of terrorism and former extremists, to offer compelling counter narratives to those from radicals.
In addition, more can be done to promote education, spread awareness and encourage large Internet companies to help mainstream community groups craft more effective messages and programs. In the long term, the best way to defeat “bad ideas” is to promote good ones.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies also need to better take advantage of the Internet to gather intelligence about terrorists’ intention, their networks, plots and operations, and to secure evidence that can be used in prosecutions. This, we believe, may be the most effective short-term approach for dealing with online extremism.
Importantly, countering online radicalization must not be a one-off effort. As the Internet evolves, so do the methods of those who want to use it to spread hate and incite terror. Dealing with this new and constantly changing threat should be a major and continuing priority for the government as it works to counter violent extremism.
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, now co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland Security Project, served as chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Peter Neumann is director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.