NYPD warns of homegrown terrorists
Analysis describes a path to violence for disaffected Muslim youth
August 15, 2007
NEW YORK – Average citizens who quietly band together and adopt radical ways pose a mounting threat to American security that could exceed that of established terrorist groups like al-Qaida, a new police analysis has concluded.
The New York Police Department report released Wednesday describes a process in which young men — often legal immigrants from the Middle East who are frustrated with their lives in their adopted country — adopt a philosophy that puts them on a path to violence.
The report was intended to explain how people become radicalized rather than to lay out specific strategies for thwarting terror plots. It calls for more intelligence gathering, and argues that local law enforcement agencies are in the best position to monitor potential terrorists.
“Hopefully, the better we’re informed about this process, the more likely we’ll be to detect and disrupt it,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during a briefing with private security executives at police headquarters.
Internet stokes ‘wandering mind’
The study is based on an analysis of a series of domestic plots thwarted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including those in Lackawanna, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; and Virginia. It was prepared by senior analysts with the NYPD Intelligence Division who traveled to Hamburg, Madrid and other overseas spots to confer with authorities about similar cases.
The report found homegrown terrorists often were indoctrinated in local “radicalization incubators” that are “rife with extremist rhetoric.”
Instead of mosques, those places were more likely to be “cafes, cab driver hangouts, flop houses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah bars, butcher shops and bookstores,” the report says.
The Internet also provides “the wandering mind of the conflicted young Muslim or potential convert with direct access to unfiltered radical and extremist ideology.”
“The Internet is the new Afghanistan,” Kelly said. “It is the de facto training ground. It’s an area of concern.”
Four stages to radicalization
The report identified the four stages to radicalization as pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and jihadization, and said the Internet drove and enabled the process.
Radicalization could be triggered by such things as the loss of a job, the death of a close family member, alienation, discrimination, and international conflicts involving Muslims, said the report by senior NYPD intelligence analysts.
“Much different from the Israeli-Palestinian equation, the transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge or desperation,” it said.
“Rather, it is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is looking for an identity and a cause and unfortunately, often finds them in extremist Islam,” said the report “Radicalization in the West: The Home-grown Threat.”
The threat posed by homegrown extremists — from “eco-terrorist” groups to neo-Nazis — has long been a top concern for federal counterterror officials.
While economic opportunities in the United States are better and the country’s Muslims are more resistant to Islamist extremism, they are “not immune to the radical message,” the report says. “The powerful gravitational pull of individuals’ religious roots and identity sometimes supersedes the assimilating nature of American society.”
Recently, authorities have taken a closer look at radicalization happening in U.S. prisons, where a study last year by George Washington University and the University of Virginia found that Islamic extremists were turning jail cells into terrorist breeding grounds by preaching violent interpretations of the Quran to their fellow inmates.
Additionally, the Justice Department last year indicted 28-year-old Adam Gadahn, who was raised on a farm in southern California, with treason and supporting terrorism for serving as an al-Qaida propagandist.
Gadahn is believed to have tried to recruit supporters through videos and messages posted on the Internet.
Critics: Report ‘plays into extremists’ plans’
The NYPD report warns that more intelligence gathering is needed since most potential homegrown terrorists “have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble,” the study says.
They “look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them,” the study adds. “In the early stages of their radicalization, these individuals rarely travel, are not participating in any kind of militant activity, yet they are slowly building the mind-set, intention and commitment to conduct jihad.”
Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the findings faulty and potentially inflammatory.
Police “paint such a broad brush,” Shora said. “It plays right into the extremists’ plans because it’s going to end up angering the community.”
A recently released National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Osama bin Laden’s network had regrouped and remains the most serious threat to the United States.
Kelly insisted the NYPD report made no effort to provide a “cookie-cutter” profile for terrorists. He also argued that the NYPD report “doesn’t contradict the National Intelligence Estimate — it augments it.”
Iranian Unit to Be Labeled ‘Terrorist’
U.S. Moving Against Revolutionary Guard
August 15, 2007
By Robin Wright
The United States has decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group’s business operations and finances.
The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran’s nuclear program, officials said.
The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said — a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.
The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that “provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists.”
The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues including Iraq and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, but in May the two countries began their first formal one-on-one dialogue in 28 years with a meeting of diplomats in Baghdad.
The main goal of the new designation is to clamp down on the Revolutionary Guard’s vast business network, as well as on foreign companies conducting business linked to the military unit and its personnel. The administration plans to list many of the Revolutionary Guard’s financial operations.
“Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately,” said a U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced. “It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people.”
For weeks, the Bush administration has been debating whether to target the Revolutionary Guard Corps in full, or only its Quds Force wing, which U.S. officials have linked to the growing flow of explosives, roadside bombs, rockets and other arms to Shiite militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Quds Force also lends support to Shiite allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and to Sunni movements such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Although administration discussions continue, the initial decision is to target the entire Guard Corps, U.S. officials said. The administration has not yet decided when to announce the new measure, but officials said they would prefer to do so before the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next month, when the United States intends to increase international pressure against Iran.
Formed in 1979 and originally tasked with protecting the world’s only modern theocracy, the Revolutionary Guard took the lead in battling Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq war waged from 1980 to 1988. The Guard, also known as the Pasdaran, has since become a powerful political and economic force in Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose through the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard and came to power with support from its network of veterans. Its leaders are linked to many mainstream businesses in Iran.
“They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines — even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling,” said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They’re developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It’s a huge business conglomeration.”
The Revolutionary Guard Corps — with its own navy, air force, ground forces and special forces units — is a rival to Iran’s conventional troops. Its naval forces abducted 15 British sailors and marines this spring, sparking an international crisis, and its special forces armed Lebanon’s Hezbollah with missiles used against Israel in the 2006 war. The corps also plays a key role in Iran’s military industries, including the attempted acquisition of nuclear weapons and surface-to-surface missiles, according to Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The United States took punitive action against Iran after the November 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, including the breaking of diplomatic ties and the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States. More recently, dozens of international banks and financial institutions reduced or eliminated their business with Iran after a quiet campaign by the Treasury Department and State Department aimed at limiting Tehran’s access to the international financial system. Over the past year, two U.N. resolutions have targeted the assets and movements of 28 people — including some Revolutionary Guard members — linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran’s largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.
China’s actions reverse a cycle during which Russia was the most reluctant among the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. “China used to hide behind Russia, but Russia is now hiding behind China,” said a U.S. official familiar with negotiations.
The administration’s move comes amid growing support in Congress for the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and in the House by Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). The bill already has the support of 323 House members.
The administration’s move could hurt diplomatic efforts, some analysts said. “It would greatly complicate our efforts to solve the nuclear issue,” said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Center for American Progress. “It would tie an end to Iran’s nuclear program to an end to its support of allies in Hezbollah and Hamas. The only way you could get a nuclear deal is as part of a grand bargain, which at this point is completely out of reach.”
Such sanctions can work only alongside diplomatic efforts, Cirincione added.
“Sanctions can serve as a prod, but they have very rarely forced a country to capitulate or collapse,” he said. “All of us want to back Iran into a corner, but we want to give them a way out, too. [The designation] will convince many in Iran’s elite that there’s no point in talking with us and that the only thing that will satisfy us is regime change.”
U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites
August 15, 2007
By ROBERT BLOCK
The U.S.’s top intelligence official has greatly expanded the range of federal and local authorities who can get access to information from the nation’s vast network of spy satellites in the U.S.
The decision, made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, places for the first time some of the U.S.’s most powerful intelligence-gathering tools at the disposal of domestic security officials. The move was authorized in a May 25 memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking his department to facilitate access to the spy network on behalf of civilian agencies and law enforcement.
Until now, only a handful of federal civilian agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, have had access to the most basic spy-satellite imagery, and only for the purpose of scientific and environmental study.
According to officials, one of the department’s first objectives will be to use the network to enhance border security, determine how best to secure critical infrastructure and help emergency responders after natural disasters. Sometime next year, officials will examine how the satellites can aid federal and local law-enforcement agencies, covering both criminal and civil law. The department is still working on determining how it will engage law enforcement officials and what kind of support it will give them.
Access to the high-tech surveillance tools would, for the first time, allow Homeland Security and law-enforcement officials to see real-time, high-resolution images and data, which would allow them, for example, to identify smuggler staging areas, a gang safehouse, or possibly even a building being used by would-be terrorists to manufacture chemical weapons.
Overseas — the traditional realm of spy satellites — the system was used to monitor tank movements during the Cold War. Today, it’s used to monitor suspected terrorist hideouts, smuggling routes for weapons in Iraq, nuclear tests and the movement of nuclear materials, as well as to make detailed maps for U.S. soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Plans to provide DHS with significantly expanded access have been on the drawing board for over two years. The idea was first talked about as a possibility by the Central Intelligence Agency after 9/11 as a way to help better secure the country. “It is an idea whose time has arrived,” says Charles Allen, the DHS’s chief intelligence officer, who will be in charge of the new program. DHS officials say the program has been granted a budget by Congress and has the approval of the relevant committees in both chambers.
Coming on the back of legislation that upgraded the administration’s ability to wiretap terrorist suspects without warrants, the development is likely to heat up debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security.
Access to the satellite surveillance will be controlled by a new Homeland Security branch — the National Applications Office — which will be up and running in October. Homeland Security officials say the new office will build on the efforts of its predecessor, the Civil Applications Committee. Under the direction of the Geological Survey, the Civil Applications Committee vets requests from civilian agencies wanting spy data for environmental or scientific study. The Geological Survey has been one of the biggest domestic users of spy-satellite information, to make topographic maps.
Unlike electronic eavesdropping, which is subject to legislative and some judicial control, this use of spy satellites is largely uncharted territory. Although the courts have permitted warrantless aerial searches of private property by law-enforcement aircraft, there are no cases involving the use of satellite technology.
In recent years, some military experts have questioned whether domestic use of such satellites would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. The act bars the military from engaging in law-enforcement activity inside the U.S., and the satellites were predominantly built for and owned by the Defense Department.
According to Pentagon officials, the government has in the past been able to supply information from spy satellites to federal law-enforcement agencies, but that was done on a case-by-case basis and only with special permission from the president.
Even the architects of the current move are unclear about the legal boundaries. A 2005 study commissioned by the U.S. intelligence community, which recommended granting access to the spy satellites for Homeland Security, noted: “There is little if any policy, guidance or procedures regarding the collection, exploitation and dissemination of domestic MASINT.” MASINT stands for Measurement and Signatures Intelligence, a particular kind of information collected by spy satellites which would for the first time become available to civilian agencies.
According to defense experts, MASINT uses radar, lasers, infrared, electromagnetic data and other technologies to see through cloud cover, forest canopies and even concrete to create images or gather data.
The spy satellites are considered by military experts to be more penetrating than civilian ones: They not only take color, as well as black-and-white photos, but can also use different parts of the light spectrum to track human activities, including, for example, traces left by chemical weapons or heat generated by people in a building.
Mr. Allen, the DHS intelligence chief, said the satellites have the ability to take a “multidimensional” look at ports and critical infrastructure from space to identify vulnerabilities. “There are certain technical abilities that will assist on land borders…to try to identify areas where narcotraficantes or alien smugglers may be moving dangerous people or materials,” he said.
The full capabilities of these systems are unknown outside the intelligence community, because they are among the most closely held secrets in government.
Some civil-liberties activists worry that without proper oversight, only those inside the National Application Office will know what is being monitored from space.
“You are talking about enormous power,” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group advocating privacy rights in the digital age. “Not only is the surveillance they are contemplating intrusive and omnipresent, it’s also invisible. And that’s what makes this so dangerous.”
Mr. Allen, the DHS intelligence chief, says the department is cognizant of the civil-rights and privacy concerns, which is why he plans to take time before providing law-enforcement agencies with access to the data. He says DHS will have a team of lawyers to review requests for access or use of the systems.
“This all has to be vetted through a legal process,” he says. “We have to get this right because we don’t want civil-rights and civil-liberties advocates to have concerns that this is being misused in ways which were not intended.”
DHS’s Mr. Allen says that while he can’t talk about the program’s capabilities in detail, there is a tendency to overestimate its powers. For instance, satellites in orbit are constantly moving and can’t settle over an area for long periods of time. The platforms also don’t show people in detail. “Contrary to what some people believe you cannot see if somebody needs a haircut from space,” he says.
James Devine, a senior adviser to the director of the Geological Survey, who is chairman of the committee now overseeing satellite-access requests, said traditional users of the spy-satellite data in the scientific community are concerned that their needs will be marginalized in favor of security concerns. Mr. Devine said DHS has promised him that won’t be the case, and also has promised to include a geological official on a new interagency executive oversight committee that will monitor the activities of the National Applications Office.
Mr. Devine says officials who vetted requests for the scientific community also are worried about the civil-liberties implications when DHS takes over the program. “We took very seriously our mission and made sure that there was no chance of inappropriate usage of the material,” Mr. Devine says. He says he hopes oversight of the new DHS program will be “rigorous,” but that he doesn’t know what would happen in cases of complaints about misuse.