Wednesday, July 9, 2014

AG Holder Outlines Cooperative Plan to Combat Foreign Fighter Threat

     United States Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday set forth a four point plan to unify the United States and European allies against the growing threat of foreign fighters who return battle hardened from Iraq and Syria with the alleged intent to wage jihad against their home governments.  AG Holder's first point, "must be to ensure that there are laws in our systems that enable governments to properly police that [returning foreign fighters] threat."  Under this proposed measure, AG Holder urged European nations to follow the lead of the United States in criminalizing certain acts associated with terrorist activity such as "conspiracy, terrorist fundraising, terrorist recruitment, planning and training."  In addition, AG Holder noted that action must be taken against those who provide not just cash to terrorists, but training and harboring as well.

     Secondly, investigative measures within the law enforcement realm to detect terrorism before it is too late within the appropriate legal framework should be utilized.  "In the United States, the FBI has already conducted undercover operations that have identified individuals with intentions to travel to Syria," said AG Holder.  A few months ago, the FBI captured an individual who sought to cross the US-Canadian border to travel to Syria with the hopes of joining extremist groups.  The FBI had been tracking his social media and used undercover agents as well as informants to interact with the suspect and gain additional intelligence regarding his intentions.       

     Third, AG Holder called on allies to develop a system in which they share intelligence gathered with each other and "prioritize the sharing of traveler information as a potential way to prevent would-be foreign fighters from going to Syria in the first place – and tracking those who come back."

     AG Holder stated the fourth and final element to his proposed joint strategy is stopping violent extremism in the earliest stages.  The United States employs a domestic program called Countering Violent Extremism or CVE, which, according to the Congressional Research Service, "is devised to address the forces that influence some people living in the United States to acquire and hold radical or extremist beliefs that may eventually compel them to commit terrorism."  The CVE and its English counterpart the Channel Program, address domestic and homegrown terrorism with the intention to root out extremist behavior before it blooms into full blown terrorism by developing relationships with members of the community and limiting propaganda.   

     Two points initially jump out that are worth mentioning from AG Holder's speech.  First, the timing may just be coincidence, but this joint strategy to build a concerted and unified effort between western allies to combat the threat of foreign fighters may also serve to rebuild the standing of the United States within their own allies as a result of recent NSA disclosures published by journalists.  AG Holder maintained yesterday, "While we are committed to ensuring that we protect the safety of our fellow citizens, we are also committed to protecting their privacy."  The Guardian reported earlier this week that as a result of NSA disclosures, Germany will alter their counter-espionage methods.  "Germany may step up its counter-espionage efforts after an employee of its intelligence service was arrested on suspicion of spying for the US.  Measures being considered in response to scandal include monitoring the intelligence activities of nominal Nato allies such as America, Britain and France, as well as expelling US agents from Germany," reported the Guardian.  Furthermore, the Guardian quoted a German official who said, "if the allegations were to turn out to be true, it would amount to 'gambling with friendships and close alliances.'"  To be fair, the Guardian also quoted another German official who addressed members of the media at a press conference who said, "The NSA alone isn't the issue. The way all European nations conduct spying operations must be reviewed," which may strengthen AG Holder's hand in trying to (re)build a unified European coalition.

     The second point worth mentioning, briefly, is in regards to how governments deal with foreign fighters upon their return.  Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, stated in a Google + hangout concerning al-Qaeda a few months ago, that by turning foreign fighters away once they return to their home countries, like England who has revoked citizenships of such foreign fighters, gives these jihadists another cause to act against their government.  Maher noted that the same thing happened after the conflict in Afghanistan against Russia where foreign fighters were turned away from their home governments, which lead them to congregate and became further radicalized as an alienated group together.  AG Holder's strategy must be careful to not alienate these individuals too much by taking precautionary measures to arrest those who do not deserve or warrant it, which may drive individuals to further radicalization against oppressive governments.     

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