FBI Says US 'Military Presence' Responsible for Rise in Terror Attacks; War on Terror Is 'Biggest Motivation' for Homegrown Terrorists
March 27, 2017
Waqas Mirza / MuckRock.com & Murtaza Hussain and Cora Currier / The Intercept
The White House and Pentagon claim that America's military is "keeping the US safe from terrorism" when, according to the FBI, the opposite is true. An Intelligence Assessment of terrorist plots against the US and US interests between 2001 and 2010 concluded: "a broadening US military presence overseas" was behind an 11 percent increase in plotted attacks since 2006. The role of US foreign policy in fomenting anti-US "blowback" remains largely unaddressed in the nation's counterterrorism programs.
2011 FBI Report Finds "Broadening US Military Presence"
Responsible for Rise in Terror Attacks
Waqas Mirza / MuckRock.com
(September 14, 2016) -- An Intelligence Assessment of terrorist plots against the United States and US interests between 2001 and 2010 concluded that "a broadening US military presence overseas and outreach by Islamist ideologues" was behind an 11 percent increase in plotted attacks since 2006.
The Intelligence Assessment was carried out in 2011 by the Los Angeles Division of the FBI and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC) and was based on an analysis of 57 terrorist plots from 2001 to 2010. It was released through a California Public Records request to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The FBI and JRIC assessed "with high confidence" that Americans rather than foreign nationals were behind the 11 percent increase in terrorist plots since 2006. Foreign nationals "led anti-US targeting prior to 2006," plotting 52 percent of all attacks, while US persons and groups planned 70 percent of all attacks after 2006.
The increase in plots by Americans was not the result of "a formal, face-to-face recruitment plan by foreign violent extremists" but largely due to "self-selection, sometimes passively influenced by Internet provocateurs."
The FBI and JRIC were not able to quantify the degree to which Islamist propaganda and ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki were influential in inspiring terrorist attacks against the United States.
The Assessment found "few identifiable unifying qualities" among the 33 Americans who plotted attacks. The group was sociologically- and religiously-diverse and even included some who seemed to have "no identifiable religious affiliation" whatsoever.
This finding is consistent with the scholarly consensus which suggests there is no single profile of terrorists. A recent Associated Press analysis of thousands of leaked Islamic State documents also revealed that "most of its recruits from its earliest days came with only the most basic knowledge of Islam."
The FBI and JRIC were confident that "much of the activity stemmed from a perception that the United States is at war with Islam and jihad is the correct and obligatory response." The US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq were factors in at least 25 percent of the cases but were cited as a "trigger" less frequently after 2006. Other "provocations" included Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon and publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper.
The FBI-JRIC Intelligence Assessment is not the first time US foreign policy and military actions have been identified as inspiring terrorist attacks.
A 2004 report by the Defense Science Board Task Force stated that "American actions and the flow of events [since 9/11] have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims."
Specifically, it blamed the "one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights," US support for "what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies," and the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq for "elevat[ing] the stature of and support for radical Islamists."
Similarly, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2006 found that "the American invasion and occupation of Iraq . . . helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism."
Many terrorists in the United States have also been outspoken about their motivations for planning attacks. Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber who was included in the FBI-JRIC Assessment, succinctly explained his own reasoning in court:
"I want to plead guilty 100 times because unless the United States pulls out of Afghanistan and Iraq, until they stop drone strikes in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen and stop attacking Muslim lands, we will attack the United States and be out to get them."
The Assessment raises uncomfortable questions for the Obama administration's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs. CVE initiatives are ostensibly aimed at reducing the threat of terrorism in the United States.
Theories of radicalization are supposed to provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies with a method of identifying those most susceptible to becoming terrorists and intervening before an attack can be planned and executed. Proponents of CVE initiatives, however, have struggled to contend with the fact that these theories are scientifically dubious and simply cannot predict who is likely to become a terrorist.
Despite these difficulties, CVE remains focused on identifying why one individual rather than another may carry out terrorist attacks, instead of considering factors - like US foreign policy and military actions - which contribute to the threat of terrorism.
As Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, recently wrote, "it's clear that western policies in the Middle East have led to high levels of frustration and may well explain why some individuals have adopted extremist views." CVE programs, he continued, are "almost entirely mute" on this subject.
When CVE initiatives do address US foreign policy, it is not in order to question whether specific policies may contribute to extremism but rather to steer targets toward "effective approaches to activism and political/social impact," as the Greater Boston's CVE Framework states.
It is unclear what exactly this means or how it is to be accomplished. One would think the history of law enforcement and intelligence agencies carrying out surveillance of constitutionally-protected, nonviolent activism in Boston would not make these activities more attractive.
In fact, CVE seems deliberately designed to circumvent any discussions about changing US policies. By focusing overwhelmingly on Muslim communities, it conveniently sidesteps questions about US policies which continually produce terrorists. The onus is instead placed on Muslims to collaborate with law enforcement and intelligence agencies and police themselves while the US government proceeds with business as usual.
Read the full report embedded below, or on the request page.
US Military Operations Are Biggest Motivation for Homegrown Terrorists, FBI Study Finds
Murtaza Hussain and Cora Currier / The Intercept
(October 11, 2016) -- A secret FBI study found that anger over US military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of "homegrown" terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to "radicalization," concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.
The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI's counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving "homegrown violent extremists."
The survey responses reinforced the FBI's conclusion that such individuals "frequently believe the US military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations."
Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and "ideologues" like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as "key factors" driving extremism. But grievances over US military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a "perceived war against Islam," "perceived discrimination," or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel.
Overall, the survey confirmed the "highly individualized nature of the radicalization process," a finding consistent with outside scholarship on the subject.
"Numerous individuals, activities, or experiences can contribute to an extremist's radicalization," the report says. "It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual's radicalization or mobilization to violence."
The report is titled "Homegrown Violent Extremists: Survey Confirms Key Assessments, Reveals New Insights about Radicalization." It is dated December 20, 2012. An FBI unit called the "Americas Fusion Cell" surveyed agents responsible for 198 "current and disrupted [homegrown violent extremists]," which the report says represented a fraction of all "pending, US-based Sunni extremist cases" at the time. The survey seems designed to look only at Muslim violent extremism. (The FBI declined to comment.)
Agents were asked over 100 questions about their subjects in order to "identify what role, if any," particular factors played in their radicalization -- listed as "known radicalizers," extremist propaganda, participation in web forums, family members, "affiliation with religious, student, or social organization(s) where extremist views are expressed," overseas travel, prison or military experience, and "significant life events and/or grievances."
Among the factors that did not "significantly contribute" to radicalization, the study found, were prison time, military service, and international travel. Although, the report notes, "the FBI historically has been concerned about the potential for prison radicalization," in fact, "survey results indicate incarceration was rarely influential."
The report ends with recommendations that agents focus their attention on web forums, social media, and other online interactions, and step up surveillance of "known radicalizers" and those who contact them.
The study echoes previous findings, including a 2011 FBI intelligence assessment, recently released to MuckRock through a public records request, which concluded that "a broadening US military presence overseas" was a motivating factor for a rise in plotted attacks, specifically the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That study also found "no demographic patterns" among the plotters.
"Insofar as there is an identifiable motivation in most of these cases it has to do with outrage over what is happening overseas," says John Mueller, a senior research scientist with the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University and co-author of "Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism."
"People read news reports about atrocities and become angry," Mueller said, adding that such reports are often perceived as an attack on one's own in-group, religion, or cultural heritage. "It doesn't have to be information from a jihadist website that angers someone, it could be a New York Times report about a drone strike that kills a bunch of civilians in Afghanistan."
Perpetrators of more recent attacks have latched onto US foreign policy to justify violence. The journals of Ahmad Rahami, accused of bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey last month, cited wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
In a 911 call, Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub earlier this year, claimed he acted in retaliation for a US airstrike on an ISIS fighter. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated his and his brother's attack on the Boston Marathon.
In many of these cases, pundits and politicians focus on the role of religion, something Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and author of "Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century," describes as a "red herring," citing a history of shifting ideologies used to justify terrorist acts.
The US government has announced plans to spend millions of dollars on "Countering Violent Extremism" initiatives, which are supposed to involve community members in spotting and stopping would-be extremists. These initiatives have been criticized as discriminatory, because they have focused almost exclusively on Muslim communities while ignoring political motivations behind radicalization.
"Politicians try very hard not to talk about foreign policy or military action being a major contributor to homegrown terrorism," Sageman says, adding that government reticence to share raw data from terrorism cases with academia has hindered analysis of the subject.
The limits of the CVE focus on community involvement are clear in cases of individuals like Rahami, whose behavior did raise red flags for those around them; Rahami's own father referred him to the FBI.
In his case, authorities did not find enough concerning evidence ahead of the attack to arrest him, underscoring the difficulty of interdicting individuals who may be inspired by organized terror groups despite having no obvious actual connection to them.
Sageman says that the shortcomings of CVE models reflect a misapprehension of what drives political violence.
"Terrorism is very much a product of individuals identifying themselves with a group that appears to be the target of aggression and reacting violently to that," he says. "Continued US military action will inevitably drive terrorist activities in this country, because some local people here will identify themselves with the victims of those actions abroad."
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