Political commentator David Rothkopf on Biden's first trip overseas and why he says America's biggest foreign policy challenge is our own polarized politics.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
Investigators are trying to pull together details about the 24-year-old man who opened fire at two military facilities last Thursday. A Navy petty officer and four Marines were killed in that attack. In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. has transformed its defense operations and upended traditional notions of privacy in an effort to better detect and block foreign operatives intent on doing us harm. There have been some successes, but statistics suggest that more persistent threats come from individuals acting alone. We look at the kinds of domestic threats we face today and what can be done to reduce the risks.
- Devlin Barrett Reporter, security and law enforcement, The Wall Street Journal.
- William Braniff Executive director, national consortium for the study of terrorism and responses to terrorism (START), University of Maryland
- Faiza Patel Co-director, liberty & national security program, Brennan Center For Justice, New York University School of Law
- Seth Jones Director, international security and defense policy center, RAND Corporation; adjunct professor,Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's on vacation. Four Marines and a Navy petty officer were gunned down last Thursday. Investigators say the motivations of the 24-year-old shooter who was also killed during the attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee, remain unclear.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me to talk about what we know about the kinds of domestic threats we face and what could be done better to protect against them, four experts on the subject with me. Devlin Barrett covers this issue for The Wall Street Journal. William Braniff teaches security issues and the University of Maryland. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation and by phone from New York, Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Welcome to you all.
MR. DEVLIN BARRETTHi.
ROBERTSDelighted to have you with us this morning. And you can join us. I'm sure you'll have questions, comments. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Email us at email@example.com or join us on Facebook and Twitter. We'll be taking your comments throughout the hour. Devlin start with what we know about this shooter, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. Little bits and pieces coming out. What's the latest?
BARRETTA lot of it's in pieces. And you're right that motive remains the biggest mystery. What we know is that he's 24-year-old electrical engineering graduate. He, you know, sort of bounced around temporary job to temporary job. His family says that he suffered from depression for a number of years and as a result of that, did too many drugs and drank too much alcohol in their view.
BARRETTYou know, the big gap, though, is how do you go from, you know, there's a lot of depressed people in the world and in this country. The big question is how do you go from being a depressed person whose life isn't necessarily working out very well to deciding to try and kill a bunch of U.S. military personnel.
ROBERTSNow, Congress McCall who heads the Homeland Security Committee in the House yesterday on television said the FBI had opened a terror investigation.
ROBERTSSignificance of that phrase?
BARRETTYou know, people, I think, get a little too hung up on parsing that. I mean, to me, it's obvious that it's terrorism of some form. You walk in. You pick a very specific target with very specific types of victims that you intend to kill, you know. And, obviously, it matters a great exactly why he chose those victims and what he was upset about, but yes, I mean, it's terrorism and it needs to be investigated as such.
BARRETTOne of the things they have to figure out is he spent seven months last year in Jordan and one of the things that...
ROBERTSWhere he had relatives.
BARRETTHe had relatives.
ROBERTSHe's of Palestinian origins, but his family has family connections in Jordan.
BARRETTRight. And that trip is sort of fascinating in the sense that, you know, to hear his family and friends tell it, he went back to sort of, you know, try and clean up his life to some degree, get his head on straight to some degree depending on who you talk to among his family and friends. You know, but the big question for investigators is did any of that experience push him in a direction toward violence.
BARRETTAnd right now, there's just too many gaps, too many questions to really know the answer.
ROBERTSNow, William Braniff, we hear the phrase self-radicalized a lot. From your reading of the evidence -- again, we have to be cautious 'cause there's a lot we don't know. But what does that mean, self radicalized and do you see a pattern here that you've seen in other cases like this?
MR. WILLIAM BRANIFFWell, to answer the second question first, this is certainly a fairly typical instance of terrorism over the last few years in which you have an individual who does have some sort of degree of mental health issues and that mixes with some potential ideology or motivation and then you see a target like a U.S. military target. Recruiting stations are among the most popular targets within those attacks that have targeted military installations.
ROBERTSPartly 'cause some of them are in store fronts and therefore far more accessible than a guarded military base.
BRANIFFRight. They're both pragmatic and symbolic reasons. You have an individual who acted alone. The vast majority of attacks over the last several years have been perpetrated by lone actors. But self-radicalization is different from acting alone and I think self-radicalization is a bit of a misnomer in that terrorism is largely a social phenomenon. You share ideas online or you hear -- you consume the propaganda that an organization has specifically produced in order to get you to not just think a certain way, but to act a certain way.
BRANIFFAnd so while the individual may have acted alone, the idea that they're purely self-radicalized, that this is something innate that came out from, you know, from inside their own psyche alone, I think, is problematic for a few reasons. One, I think it gives us less counterterrorism tools to use at your disposal if we just think that these people are emerging from their parents' basement with no contact from the outside world to conduct these horrible attacks.
ROBERTSYou know, let me bring in Faiza Patel. One of the interesting dimensions here, there's been a lot of attention on his relations in Jordan, his trip, as Devlin mentioned. But a lot of the experts I've been reading point out that you don't have to travel anymore to be in contact with these radical ideas. That the internet, you can sit in your parents basement and have contact to a vast array of incendiary propaganda. Talk about this dimension of it, Faiza, and how important it is in a case like this, that someone like Abdulazeez can have this kind of access to these radical ideas on the internet.
MS. FAIZA PATELWell, first of all, I mean, I think we're sort of jumping ahead of ourselves over here. I mean, we don't know what he had access to on the internet. We don't know anything about his search history. In fact, you know, the latest reports, you have the authorities saying that they haven't discovered any connection with ISIS or ISIL, whatever you want to call it, so far, and they've, no doubt, been trolling through his search history.
MS. FAIZA PATELSo I think, you know, there's a threshold question over there. And I think the second thing is, to just kind of keep in mind, that every time you have some kind of a mass shooting, whether it's at a school or this one or the recent events in Charleston, we do kind of jump to try and make sense of it. And one of the ways that we try and make sense of it is by attaching the label "terrorism" to it.
MS. FAIZA PATELAnd in fact, in the law, terrorism is quite narrowly defined so that if you have a violent act, which is a shooting, so it's not a hijacking or use of weapons of mass destruction or an explosive, then there's a fairly narrow set of circumstances in which it would be considered terrorism and that actually requires some kind of link to international terrorism.
MS. FAIZA PATELAnd so far, we actually don't know whether that's the case. The second instance in which it becomes relevant is at sentencing and that's obviously a much later stage. So I think we need to be a little bit careful before we start putting labels on this.
ROBERTSI'm not putting a label on it. What I'm asking you is, what is the -- there's a pattern here. We don't know his search history, but we do know that the internet is a place where a lot of people have found inspiration and material for violent acts, both in this country and abroad. I'm asking you to give me a sense of how this works and what you've seen in other cases.
PATELWell, I think each case is fairly different and so while you may have people who are searching particular things on the internet, the extent to which it's the ideology that's actually driving a particular violent act or whether it's individual circumstances, I think, is something that's very much unknown. I mean, each terrorist incident is kind of unique in a way and we are actually very fortunate in that we have very few of these kinds of incidences in the United States at least.
PATELAnd the most recent report that came out from The New America Foundation, you know, found that -- and you can contest its methodology, but basically it was saying that you had al-Qaida inspired terrorism and you had right-wing inspired terrorism and the numbers were roughly equal. But overall, the numbers are relatively low when you look at sort of violence in this country and more broadly.
ROBERTSNow, I want to get to that report in a minute, but let bring in Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. Here was a -- again, we know limited amount about this troubled young man, but we do know his father was on a watch list twice for contributing organizations that were on terrorist lists of Hamas. Why did he trip no wires? I mean, as you look at this case -- again, we know these isolated figures are very hard to track, but why do you think he never came across the radar of law enforcement?
MR. SETH JONESWell, the way the FBI generally operates in situations like this is they'll open cases in instances where they have sufficient information, they believe, potentially to prosecute someone. And in this case, what appears to be the reality is that they simply did not have information which indicated that he was involved in any with terrorist activity. The threshold, actually, is quite high, certainly compared to what some countries like the British and MI-5 need to be able to open a case...
ROBERTSVery different laws about free speech in the U.K.
JONESVery different laws. Plus, organizations like MI-5 -- MI-5 is not a prosecution organization. They're simply an intelligence. The fact that the FBI is both means that the laws here are more stringent. So what appears to be the case in my discussions with folks from the FBI even recently are they simply did not have information in their intelligence collection, both human and otherwise that indicated he was a threat.
JONESAnd that means with all of the concerns and threats that they face throughout FBI domains, without evidence that this individual was involved, you're not going to put limited resources against someone like that.
ROBERTSBecause, as you say, given the American tradition and American law, speech is protected. You have to have evidence of action before you -- law enforcement gets engaged.
JONESAnd that's the problem with this kind of situation is just because somebody's involved, even a little bit, on social media or retweeting -- we've seen in other cases, retweeting ISIS situations, it's not breaking a law.
ROBERTSThat is Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. We're going to be back with your calls and your comments. Some lines are open so give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. And we'll get to your calls in the next part of our program. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And the subject this hour, domestic terrorism in the light of the tragic shooting in Chattanooga. I have with me: Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal, covers these issues for the Journal, William Braniff of the University of Maryland, Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. By phone from New York Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law. Give us a call. We have some lines open. 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send us a Tweet or a post on Facebook.
ROBERTSDevlin, I want to pick up on this question of the international cyber presence of terrorist organizations. Jane Harman, former member of Congress, now head of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington wrote a provocative op-ed page saying: "We're losing the cyber war with terrorists." That they're more effective. They're more -- in part, because their messages come from peers and that, you know, the American counterterrorism is some official Tweeting without -- nothing like the same appeal or believability or credibility. Talk about this dimension. Again, we don't know, as Faiza said, we don't know the search history of Abdul Aziz. We do know that this is an issue, however.
BARRETTRight. It's been an issue in plenty of other cases. And, you know, the dynamic is that ISIS, Islamic State, can get their message out on Twitter and Facebook and any number of other social media platforms, despite a lot of official effort to counter that. And for the basic reason of what social media is, that it's -- that it is, you know, one-to-one connections. It is, you know, about as unofficial as communications can be in many ways. And the reality is, government bureaucrats Tweeting at people in Syria is not going to convince those who might be attracted to messages coming out of those groups in Syria.
BARRETTYou know, you -- it's a great question. One of the arguments has been, well, the U.S. needs to step up its propaganda efforts. And it's not clear to me that that would ever actually work to talk to the people you're trying to reach. I think what the government has started focusing on, which I think is an interesting area, is focusing on what works for getting people to leave gangs and what works for getting young people to disassociate from criminal elements. And those sorts of outreach efforts is where the FBI and the Justice Department are starting to think about, we need to do more, you know, for lack of a better word, grassroots communication with people. And maybe that's not going to be a government employee, in any way, shape or form.
ROBERTSRight. Well, there's this part of Harman's argument that the government is particularly ill-suited...
BARRETTNo one wants to hear from "the man."
ROBERTSI mean, since the motivation often is very anti-authoritarian, right, and anti-establishment. Bill Braniff, there's also a -- the technology is leaping forward in the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations, utilizing the latest to communicate. Talk a little bit about that.
BRANIFFCertainly. So we conducted a study funded by the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology that looked into the cyber sophistication of ISIL and compared it to other violent jihadist groups. And what we found is that this is an organization that invests very seriously in developing new code, developing new programs -- so not just using off-the-shelf technology -- and communicating to people across different platforms, including social media applications, which is of course well known. But one of their -- one examples -- example of this is an app that was available via Google Play, called "The Dawn of Good Tidings," "Fajr al-Basha'ir".
BRANIFFAnd this application would allow ISIL administrators to hijack the Twitter feeds of anyone who downloaded this application, to use that person's individual Twitter feed as a conduit for ISIL propaganda. Now this is really important.
ROBERTSAnd this is -- and the person who's been hijacked, are they aware of this or not?
ROBERTSSo they're voluntarily providing this linkage.
BRANIFFThis is something you might do when you join ISIL, you'd be instructed to download this application. You join willingly.
BRANIFFYou download the application willingly. And now there are a couple implications for this. One, while there's a grassroots, peer-to-peer messaging component to ISIL's social media outreach -- which is really important and shouldn't be understated -- ISIL hasn't totally surrendered command and control of some of their propaganda. And they have the ability to sort of hijack an individual's account. But more importantly, I think, domestically in the United States, this means -- well it used to be constitutionally protected behavior, right -- I subscribe to a Twitter feed, I go to a violent jihadist web forum and we engage in a discussion of ideas, it's protected activity -- now has become material support for a designated terrorist organization.
BRANIFFBecause I've given them a new capability that they didn't have prior to me downloading that application.
ROBERTSAnd does that cross a line, from a legal point of view?
BRANIFFWell, it -- on paper it does. Whether or not -- or how the criminal justice system in the United States will deal with this very low threshold for material support is an open question.
ROBERTSAnd there were no test cases on this yet?
BRANIFFNot to my knowledge. And I've spoken to some high folks -- folks high up in DOJ and FBI on this. But there is this really important focus in terrorism cases in the United States on the ideas that people are consuming when you go into sentencing. As Faiza mentioned, in the sentencing portion of a trial, there's a lot of attention paid to what documents did they consume online? What did their social media accounts look like? Because that gets at motivation. And if you can establish a terrorist motivation, you can use a terrorist enhancement and extend the duration of the sentence. So it becomes really important.
ROBERTSNow, Faiza, you -- at the Brennan Center, I know a lot of your focus is on the balancing of civil liberties with how you combat terrorist threats. And as Bill was talking, is there some concern? Do you have some concern that there is a potential threat to civil liberties here, with the kind of definitions that Bill was talking about? Give us your take.
PATELYeah. I mean, I think that's absolutely right. But I just want to go back and clarify something that Seth did -- mentioned a little while ago, which is that he suggested that the FBI can only start an investigation when it gets some information which suggests that someone is involved in a criminal activity. And that's actually -- has changed significantly in the years since 9/11. Because the FBI also has the authority to start something called an assessment, which is a lower-level than an investigation. They don't need any kind of tip or lead about criminal activity. They simply have to have something called an authorized purpose, which is that they're looking for a terrorist.
PATELSo the FBI actually has very broad authority to start looking at people, even without indication of criminal activity. And I think this kind of ties into the point that was just being made about material support. Material support is a crime that has really -- it's been around for a while, but its contours have been loosened over time, so that there's no -- you don't have to have an intent to be supporting a terrorist organization in order to be convicted of material support. And I think that's really important, right? Because if you're talking about, you know, downloading an app, which allows someone to take over your Twitter feed, I mean, you're very, very far from a situation where you're sending money to a terrorist group because you want to further their mission.
PATELAnd material support is also very, very severely penalized in our criminal justice system. Just recently, the USA Freedom Act, in a little-noticed provision, raised the penalty for material support from 15 years in prison to 20 years in prison. And you also, obviously, have the possibility for having a terrorist enhancement at sentencing. So you're looking at very, very long prison terms for non-violent activity, and activity that really kind of skirts on the First Amendment protected zone that we cherish in this country.
ROBERTSSeth -- Seth Jones, RAND Corporation, I notice that the FBI has -- the director has said recently, there have been 10 arrests, unthwarted plots. And in the stories talking about Tennessee, they mentioned that -- not Chattanooga, which has a small Muslim population -- but some of the other larger cities have task forces on the -- FBI task forces on the ground. Talk about how they work and in this whole dimension of -- evolving dimension of our counterterrorism defenses.
JONESSure. The vast majority of counterterrorism investigations, at least from the law enforcement side, come under the purview of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. And they exist in a range of cities across the U.S., working closely with some of the intelligence fusion centers. And they include -- they're run by the FBI but they include a range of law enforcement organizations. Some have assistance from and are linked in with the National Counterterrorism Center back in the Washington, D.C. area, so have access to intelligence. And what they do, essentially, is look at leads within their areas and identify potential terrorism cases and then they investigate.
JONESAnd so, you know, the focus is probably less on the intelligence picture and more on the investigation side. So they have been accused of focusing more on prosecution rather than gathering and monitoring individuals. Let me just come back to one issue that Faiza mentioned. And this is actually the challenge. Because what I'm referring to is cases and that the challenge for the FBI to get up -- to open an actual case on someone, means that they actually have to have a decent barrier of information. The challenge that we have, I think, with organizations like the FBI is really, to understand that someone is a threat means they've got to start putting surveillance on individuals, monitoring their email accounts.
JONESThat's just -- with the amount of people that don't make that barrier, that we just don't have the resources.
ROBERTSI want to ask -- follow-up something, though. Because you mentioned the FBI investigative unit. We understand that. But one of the key elements in intelligence gathering in these communities is having good relations with the Muslim communities, with the community leaders, the Imams and the leaders of the mosques. And one story I read said, you know, when you do these arrests, you can have the counter effect of alienating some of the people you need to provide you intelligence sources.
JONESThe challenge, I think, with this interaction with communities is, in the U.S., it is so decentralized right now. The Joint Terrorism Task Forces are involved in some, as an organization. The FBI's involved in some bilaterally, the Department of Homeland Security, the Fire Department in some cases involved in it. There are broader state and local organizations. Our problem in the U.S. is everybody's involved in this and, in that sense, it means nobody is.
ROBERTSBill, go ahead.
BRANIFFI was going to say, this basket of policies and programs about building better relationships with our communities and really empowering communities to be part of the solution, this is called Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, in short. And I think what the law enforcement community is learning is that they have to broaden the aperture here. And it can't just be about the Muslim-American community. If the acquaintances of Dylann Roof had been more aware of the salience of the spread of white supremacy -- I mean, he told multiple people that he was, you know, that he was interested in conducting a violent crime.
BRANIFFBut either those individuals that he told weren't primed to do something with that information or they didn't know what to do with that information or they weren't primed to take it seriously or they just didn't know what to do. So if we can build community level programs that take bullying seriously, that take drugs and gangs seriously and, in addition to all those other hazards, take the hazard of violent extremism seriously, we can build some of the community strengths to deal with the issue.
BRANIFFAnd if government facilitates that behavior of dealing with the issues that the community is most concerned about -- whether that's bullying or drugs or gangs or violent extremism -- in the instance that someone comes across a Dylann Roof or a Mr. Abdul Aziz, who -- I agree with Faiza, we don't know yet enough about his motivation -- but should he have told somebody about this forthcoming attack, they would be -- they would trust the government enough to do something about it.
ROBERTSAnd that -- by the way, I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And this question of trust is very important, isn't it, in building relations so that folks do trust the FBI. And as a journalist, I've written about this a little bit and I've talked to leaders in the Muslim community and say, one of our problems is that so many of our people come from countries where they don't trust the intelligence services. They don't trust the government. And it's very hard to build those relationships of trust.
BRANIFFIt is. There is -- you might think there's a conflict of interest there. Especially if a group like the FBI, which is charged with investigating and ultimately handing off to DOJ a prosecution for a terrorism case, is the same agent that is supposed to build trust at the community level. There could be some tension there. However, as Seth mentioned, this is really a community-centric behavior, in which government at all levels has to be -- has to empower and facilitate but really, ultimately, can't lead if it's to be successful.
ROBERTSSeth, you want to add something?
JONESYeah, just briefly. I mean, we have a lot of cases in the last couple of years where individuals have plotted attacks. We saw it with Najibullah Zazi, who built his bombs in Aurora, Colo. We saw it with Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, building them in Connecticut. Even the Boston Bombers, people in the community were aware of their activities and no one was willing to provide information, including family members, because they did not trust the authorities. That really highlights the problem we face in a number of communities.
ROBERTSNow, I want to add something. And, Devlin, I'm going to bring you in on this. Another article I read said it's very important to understand that domestic terrorism is no equal to jihadism. In fact, that there are -- you talk about Dylann Roof, that there are actually more incidents involving white extremists, motivated by a variety of ideologies, than by Muslims. And this is not simply an issue of Muslim terrorism. It goes far beyond that.
BARRETTRight. Absolutely. And, I mean, you could argue that, you know -- obviously there's still more to learn -- but you could argue that what we saw last week in Chattanooga is in some ways a very, almost American hybrid problem of a disaffected young man who went and shot up a place. I think what stands out about Chattanooga is that he shot up a military recruiting center. And it's a very valid question to ask, why that target? It's hard for me to imagine there's any reason other than anger toward the U.S. government and maybe a more specific anger than that, but that at a minimum.
BARRETTI think, when you talk about, you know, domestic terrorism versus Islamic-inspired or jihadist-style terrorism, I think, when you have bodies on the ground, in some ways it doesn't matter at all, because you've got bodies. But, you know, in this country, I think a lot of it depends on what scares you more. And so I think people get more scared by what happened in Chattanooga sometimes and they get more...
BARRETTWell, because I think, you know, the other stuff can sometimes be categorized as a -- some version of street violence. Not always. Certainly, you know, Eric Rudolph was terrifying. Certainly, Timothy McVeigh was terrifying. But I think there is, in, for whatever reason -- and the reasons would be very interesting I think, you know, maybe it's to do with race and class, I'm not sure, but I think you'd probably need a psychologist to tell you that -- but Islamic-inspired terrorism is more frightening to the government, I think, frankly, in the wake of 9/11. We all still live in the shadow of that event.
BARRETTAnd I think policymakers are far more concerned about that on a daily basis than they are about, you know, quote, unquote, "domestic terrorism," which we often use as shorthand, frankly, for, you know, anti-government, you know, sort of far-right type events.
ROBERTSFaiza, quickly, do you agree with this notion that Muslim-inspired terrorism is more frightening to America and it takes it more seriously than other forms?
PATELYeah. I mean, that's obvious, right? I mean, even in the debate around countering violent extremism, one of the big issues has been this exclusive focus on the Muslim-American community, with really no effort being made to reach out to anybody else in this space. And it's quite interesting because in the wake of Charleston, when you, you know, what DHS has said is that, "Well, you know, we've reached out to other communities. But they don't want to speak with us." And it's only the Muslim-American community that's coming forward to build these relationships with law enforcement.
ROBERTSWe're going to have to take a break here. But come back. We'll be back with your phone calls so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Our subject, this hour, domestic terrorism after the tragic shootings in Chattanooga. I have four experts with me, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal, William Braniff, University of Maryland, Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. And Faiza Patel is on the phone at the Brennan Center in New York University School of Law. And let me read some messages from our listeners. This is Jerry in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
ROBERTSThese days, anytime there's any bombing or shooting, it's carelessly called terrorism. But terrorism is not the act of violence itself. It's the attempt to use the act to have an impact on those who were not involved. It's a scare tactic. The goal of terrorism is not to hurt the direct victims. It's to scare and manipulate others. So, that's why it makes sense to say the terrorists win if they somehow control our reaction to the event. Bill, what do you think?
BRANIFFWell, I think the listener makes a great point about the psychological impact of terrorism. And the fact that terrorism is intended to have a psychological impact on an audience beyond the physical target. That allows it to tear at the seams of society, right? If you can use violence to highlight a wedge issue and force people to come down on one side of the issue or the other side of the issue, it separates us and it turns us into this polarized community. That's one of the ways terrorism works, and so I think it's a really astute point.
ROBERTSThis is from Paul, who's a graduate student at Duke University and Paul writes, you are confusing surveillance with arrest and indictment. The events in Chattanooga are clear evidence of a failure of our Homeland Security information gathering systems. As has been stated in the past, too much information clouds effective decisions and actions. The perpetrator should have been on law enforcement radar for a number of reasons, but he was not. Seth, you talked about that issue. What's your reaction to that?
JONESYeah, I think based on what we know right now, it's hard to make an argument that someone like that should have been on surveillance. We know it by actually what this person did in retrospect, but based on what information we know right now about what he said and what he did in the past, and based on the other kinds of threats, and we've seen arrests by various police departments in the FBI in Minneapolis and San Diego and New York. And even recently, in Massachusetts against individuals who are actually plotting attacks.
JONESOr it appears that they were -- they've been charged with plotting attacks. That based on the levels and the degrees of active plots, it doesn't appear, based on what we know, that he should have necessarily been on the radar screen.
BRANIFFRight. And to that point, there was a couple blog posts that they believe were written by Abdulazeez days before this attack. And it's interesting. When those blog posts came out, everyone said, oh wow, this shows, you know, why he did it and what he was trying to do. I've spoken to a number of terrorism investigators who have read those blog posts and said there is nothing about this that would have caused me to forward it to anyone, that would have said, we need to start an assessment on this person right away.
BRANIFFThere only, that only looks...
BRANIFFThat only looks alarming once you already know what he has done. And even then, it doesn't really give you an answer. So, I think, you know, we may get down the road, and it may be that some family member or friend should have come forward. You know, you certainly hope that people worry about this stuff and think about this stuff in the course of their life. But it may be that we don't have some smoking gun before the smoking gun that could have gotten us here.
ROBERTSFaiza, you wanted to add.
PATELYeah, what I wanted to say was this idea that, you know, communities and friends are going to have a clue as to what somebody's about to do. And I think it may be the case that in some instances, there are indications that someone is about to commit a criminal act. But in many cases, families and friends have no idea what's going on with individuals and particularly in some of the cases we've seen. Coming out of the United Kingdom, for example, where three young girls sort of left to join ISIS.
PATELAnd the families are as perplexed as the rest of the world about what's going on over here. And I think that there's a little bit of an unfairness to putting this special responsibility on particular families and particular communities. Especially since you're talking about one community at the end of the day. I mean, let's be serious here. We're talking about the Muslim community, and what you're saying is, your community, you need to be watching your kids and your young people, because they're about, might be about to turn into terrorists.
PATELAnd I'm just not sure that that's a really fair burden to put on these families, nor do I think that they have any special expertise that they might be able to identify pre-terrorist behavior.
BRANIFFWell, Faiza, I understand that point. However, if we don't try to empower communities, and I don't just mean families, but also educators, mental health practitioners, the soccer coach, et cetera, then the burden falls...
ROBERTSThe religious leaders.
BRANIFF...religious leaders, sure, if that's applicable. But then the burden falls only on the law enforcement community, which then has to pry deeper into our civil rights and civil liberties in order to find these really hard to detect indicators. But, you know, we've done a survey, or long form research interviews on the white supremacist movement for example. And we've seen higher than average numbers of childhood trauma, parental abuse, mental health issues like suicidal ideation and depression.
BRANIFFAnd drug use, alcohol abuse, these sorts of issues which could have provided an entrée into a conversation that might have led to an intervention. And I agree entirely with your point that we shouldn't assume families know what's going on or understand the indicators, right? Why should they know what Anwar Al-Alawki says on a YouTube video that may have nothing whatsoever to do with their lives? But you can educate people, just like we could have educated the communities surrounding Dylan Roof about what some of the things to look out for. And so, I think we can engage in this conversation in a healthy way.
ROBERTSLet me read another email from Jack, who writes to us, as a marine, who served in the 60s, I am sickened by the cowardly attack in Chattanooga. And I understand the legal ramifications of labeling a crime an act of terrorism. But I do not understand the endless discussion of the term. To what end? Also, I do not understand why there is not more media attention to the weapons used in this, another mass killing. What were the weapons, and how were they attained? What will it take to curb such ease of access? Devlin Barrett.
BARRETTWell, it's a great question, because I'll be honest, one of the things, as a reporter, that you come across in reporting out these types of incidents, is that, you know, I have spent, I've gotten any number of questions about like, well, what is this text that he sent, you know, hours before the (unintelligible) and, you know, frankly, not that many questions about well, how does someone go about getting two AR15s and a handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and that doesn't raise any eyebrows or concerns among anyone.
BARRETTOur country, this country has a very long and close relationship with guns. And it is interesting to me, that even in the context of something like Chattanooga, there is not a great deal of debate as to whether gun policy should change or should be any different. And I think the country as a whole is fine with that. That is acceptable in this country.
ROBERTSAnd even after the killings in South Carolina, when the FBI admitted that they had mishandled the background check and people said that he, Dylan Roof, should have been barred from attaining these weapons. That didn't lead, as you say, to some voices were raised, but not a great number.
BARRETTNo. There's really not, I shouldn't say no political appetite for looking at that. There is obviously some political appetite.
ROBERTSWell, the President raised it, certainly.
BARRETTRight. But that -- politicians have fought and died on that hill for a long time now. And so, I think the reality is, as much as people may be concerned that gun policy is part of the problem, I don't think policy makers, and I don't think the public believe that gun policy is part of the problem.
ROBERTSLet me go to some of our callers now. Roy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You're on The Diane Rehm Show. Welcome.
ROYGood morning. Great show, as always. It always surprises me, in any discussion from the media, as to why these people hate us, why they're attacking us. It's usually always they're demented terrorists. They're jealous of our way of life. I think the more obvious reason that doesn't seem to be discussed more often is that we've attacked, we've declared war on a number of the entities over there, and we're constantly killing their people. And maybe they just want us out of their country and want us, telling us how to run their lives.
ROBERTSGo ahead, Devlin.
BARRETTWell, I think that certainly is a very frequent complaint and a very established narrative, that if the US was simply less aggressive and less interventionist and less, you know, you can put any number of adjectives on it. Meddlesome is one that gets used a lot. Then we wouldn't have this problem. It's a great question, but I always wonder, so what would the fallback line be? Like what, what US foreign policy is too much US foreign policy? There are certainly plenty of foreign policy choices the US has made that you could argue were bad choices and had negative effects.
BARRETTBut I think the notion that to prevent terrorism, the US should have a different foreign policy, it raises some interesting questions as to okay, which ones?
ROBERTSLet me turn to Brian in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brian, welcome. You're on The Diane Rehm Show.
BRIANThanks for taking my call. You have kind of brushed around some of the -- I wanted to say, basically, as far as the word terrorism and like the young lady was talking about the definition of the word terrorism. One of the things that I see the media doing quite a bit, and obviously, not so much NPR, but the sensationalism of, you know, when you have a person who goes in and shoots up a number of people in a church, he's a lone wolf. Yet, if the lone wolf's name was Muhammad, it's terrorism.
BRIANAnd I think we need to -- if there is some sort of definition of terrorism that means that you have to contact somebody from some other country, you know, obviously, this guy could have gone in to any kind of an internet café and used a prepaid card and nothing would be traced back to him. So, I mean, you could spend years looking for things like that. I think we need to redefine the word terrorism, because obviously, in both cases, you know, the church shooting and the Chattanooga shooting, it was meant to scare people and to change peoples' thoughts.
ROBERTSOkay, Brian, thank you very much. Faiza, you talked a bit about this question of definitions and the difference between Muslim attacks and other kinds. Please answer the caller.
PATELSo, actually, I don't think that we need to expand the definition of terrorism, to tell you the truth. I think that we've already expanded the definition of terrorism too much. So as to include, for example, the material support provisions that we talked about. I think what a lot of people are struck by is the lack of disparity between how violence by Muslims is treated verses violence by people who are associated with other kinds of ideology. But I don't think that means that we should make the mistake of sort of, you know, exacerbating and elevating crimes.
PATELI think that, you know, the federal, the state criminal law, you know, provides plenty of penalties for somebody like the Charleston shooter. And I think the key really is is what the narrative is like. And what the narrative coming out of the government, coming out of policy makers and obviously coming out of the press, as well. You remember right after South Carolina, the FBI Director went on and his sort of first reaction was this is not terrorism. In contrast, the US Attorney, after this particular attack in Chattanooga, first reaction, this is terrorism. So, I think that's the disparity that's so troubling.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. But Bill, you offered a useful definition earlier, where you said, terrorism involves the intent to spread fear beyond simply acting out of hatred or other motives. And the word terror is contained in terrorism. And it seems to me that's one of the useful possibilities of trying to define a difficult phenomenon.
BRANIFFWell, you can't deny the emotive nature of terrorism. Right? It's meant to generate an emotional response, not a sober, rational response. There's a lot of parsing between the difference of, you know, what is a terrorist attack verses what is a hate crime? And I think, unfortunately, in that conversation, what we've done is somehow demote the importance of hate crime, as if it's not a horrific crime in and of itself. This is even more important when you consider that in 2013, there were nearly 6,000 hate crimes in the United States.
BRANIFFBut if you go back to 1970, there have been 2,646 terrorist attacks. So, 44 years of terrorism data gives you less than half the number of hate crimes in just last year, just 2013. So, if you can string enough of these hate crimes together, even if they're not meant to have a broader societal impact, even if it's just somebody who sees a minority and in a moment of hatred, kills that person or strikes that person, you do that frequently enough and you could create the same kind of terror in that target community as Al Qaeda has done in the United States.
BRANIFFSo, I really don't think we should demote hate crime as some sort of lesser version of a horrific act of ideologically motivated violence.
ROBERTSAnd you make an interesting point about the statistics. As Devlin mentioned, we're all living in the aftermath of 9/11, right? But since 9/11, according to the statistics I've seen, 74 Americans, or basically five a year, have been killed in terrorist attacks. Which is far smaller numbers than the kind of hate crimes you're talking about.
BARRETTRight. And that's not to say that we should therefore ignore the importance of terrorism.
BARRETTTerrorism is not a numbers game. Again, it is meant to create rifts within society. So, those five murders are meant to be wedge issues that split us. That divide our psyche and make it harder for us to meet in the middle.
ROBERTSI want to ask a final question to all of you. Start with you, Seth. What are the gaps, what are the weaknesses, what has been exposed by Chattanooga that says to, all right, this is something that we should be doing better, something we've learned from this?
JONESFrankly, I think the biggest lesson I take from Chattanooga is that we're going to have to live with this kind of incident, I think, over the next couple of years. And this gets into issues of resiliency in the US. The British had to deal with decades of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army. The Israelis have had to deal with it. I think we're moving in a direction where if you read the propaganda coming from the extreme right wing, the Neo-Nazi organizations, if you read the propaganda coming from "Dabiq," that's the Islamic State's propaganda magazine.
JONESAl Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire Magazine. They are calling for these kinds of shootings in places like the United States. It's going to be difficult to stop all of them, so in a sense, we need to be a little bit more resilient here.
BRANIFFJust to pick one thing specific, if you look back to 1970, four percent of the terrorist attacks that did not involve a firearm resulted in a fatality. But 40 percent of those terrorist attacks that did involve a firearm resulted in one or more fatalities. The efficacy of firearms violence in, within the context of terrorism, is something we should address.
BARRETTMy takeaway is what it's been for a while, which is that the Joint Terrorism Task Forces are really strapped. And they have so many things that they are working on all the time that there are definitionally gonna be people that they don't see. And maybe they would never have seen, even if they weren't strapped. But when I talk to people, what comes across most often is how the fear, internally, is that we are simply trying to keep track of too many people that we have concerns about. And they're worried that they're not doing that as well as they could, as well as they can, given the numbers.
ROBERTSFaiza Patel, last word.
PATELI think what all of the speakers said. One is resiliency. Small scale attacks are something that we should expect from across the political spectrum, I think. And we should not let those terrorize us as a nation, and actually use those to come together. And I think in Chattanooga, we've seen that. We saw it in Charleston. And I do think that, we, as a country, are developing a greater sense of we can get over this. And these things do happen, but we're going to stand together.
ROBERTSThat's Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center at New York University. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. Bill Braniff, University of Maryland, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Thanks for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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