Napolitano Lays Out a New Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 9:52 am
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City to lay out the Obama administration’s new counterterrorism strategy. Her speech is ongoing, but I’ve got a copy of her remarks, and there’s some interesting stuff. The Wall Street Journal’s preview reports that Napolitano is building substantially off the Bush administration’s homeland security measures, and there’s a lot of truth to that. She strongly embraces the department’s controversial “fusion centers” with local law enforcement, which our sister site The Colorado Independent has covered heavily. Napolitano:
These centers are a critical part of our nation’s homeland security capabilities and I intend to make it a top priority for the Department to support and work with them.
Civil libertarians have a big problem with that. But there are some other aspects of Napolitano’s speech that reconceptualize homeland security in a civil libertarian direction. Perhaps most importantly, she describes the need to reconceive the department’s relationship to the diverse Muslim-American communities around the country as a counterterrorism measure in and of itself. To do otherwise, she said, is to live in a “state of fear,” not a desired “state of preparedness.”
At DHS, our office of civil rights and civil liberties is building stronger relationships with Arab- and Muslim-American, as well as South Asian communities, across the country, so we can share information with community leaders in a timely manner, and also become more culturally attuned to issues that members from these communities often face.
That makes a lot of sense. The sense of “Americanness” felt by Muslim-American communities are important prophylactics against extremism, and stands in contrast to radicalized minority groups in Europe, toward whom European governments and publics take an antagonistic attitude. If radicalism grows inside American Muslim communities, law enforcement is going to need an attentive community to identify the warning signs, and so the Department is going to need to make those communities feel like they’re partners, not targets, of law enforcement.
There’s a lot more to say about the speech, and I’ll be going through it later, but there is one more point worth highlighting. This is a foundational insight for the strategy:
Terrorism more often has become “privatized violence” that does not rely on links to an army or a sovereign state.
We often hear that this is what our globalized era looks like. But what’s most salient about today’s environment is that it is also networked. In a networked world, information, true and false, moves everywhere, all the time.
States are no longer central to U.S. counterterrorism strategy, as they were under the previous administration. Networks are. That means a great effort at cybersecurity and a strengthened relationship with local law enforcement, communities around the country — those fusion centers and joint task forces again — and foreign partner governments to share intelligence and resources. This is a speech, and a strategy, about preventing terrorism that’s heavily into a law enforcement and intelligence sharing paradigm. Nothing in here about the military, or about fighting them in Lashkar Gah so we don’t fight them in Louisiana.
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