China's market turmoil reverberates worldwide. More than 100 people die this week in Europe's ongoing migrant crisis. And the new U.S. envoy for Syria pushes for a political solution to the civil war. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The surviving Boston bombing suspect told investigators he and his brother learned to build bombs from online sources. Terrorism in the digital age.
- Michael Moynihan cultural news editor at Newsweek Daily Beast.
- Dr. Jerrold Post author of "Mind of the Terrorist" and professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at The George Washington University.
- Michael German former FBI agent and senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
- Philip Mudd senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, former deputy director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center and former deputy director of the FBI National Security Branch.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last week, President Obama suggested the two brothers suspected in the Boston bombing were self-radicalized. Now, there are questions about how much of that might have taken place online. Joining me to talk about the challenges of combating terrorism in the digital age: Jerrold Post of the George Washington University, Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union, joining us from the studios of WKNO in Memphis, Tenn., Philip Mudd of the New American Foundation.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we, of course, will welcome your questions, comments. Join us by phone at 800-248-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
DR. JERROLD POSTGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL GERMANGood morning.
MR. PHILIP MUDDGood morning.
REHMDr. Post, let me start with you. What do we mean when we talk about online radicalization?
POSTIn this new age of communication revolution with the Internet and social media, increasingly, we have lonely, isolated individuals seeking to belong, who, on the Internet, find a virtual community of hatred and are manipulated in that environment to move in increasingly radical directions.
REHMHave you seen these websites? What do they say? How do they draw people in?
POSTThere are basically three themes on the radicalizing messages. One, we, the Muslims, are victims. Two, they, the West, especially the United States and Great Britain, as well as Israel, are the victimizers. And, three, therefore, it is required that we conduct defensive jihad to preserve Islam from those who are seeking to shame us and eliminate us.
REHMBut surely, you're not just talking about Muslims who are radicalized.
POSTOh, no. There are radical right-wing websites as well. And there's a difference between being radicalized, subscribing to a belief system, and carrying out an act of violence. But that's the pre-condition first, to become absorbed in that community of hatred.
REHMMichael German, how do you see it?
GERMANWell, actually, the connection is not as close as that. So there was a really interesting study done by Demos, a British think tank, that differed from most government radicalization studies in that it created -- it used sort of social science methodology and used control groups and actually established a group of terrorists -- people who had actually been convicted of terrorist crimes -- a group of radicals -- people who had these radical beliefs but had not been convicted of crimes -- and then a group of young Muslims.
GERMANAnd this happened throughout Canada and Europe in these study groups. And what they found was that the self-described radicals were often opposed to terrorism. And even though they held beliefs -- strongly held beliefs that our government often associates with terrorism, they actually would have been better as allies in counterterrorism efforts rather than treated as potential suspects. So I think it's very dangerous to closely associate ideas with violence.
REHMAnd, Phil Mudd, to you, we've been hearing this term self-radicalized. How important a role does the Internet play in terms of self-radicalization?
MUDDI think that term is a little bit misleading because it often suggests that there's some individual in a basement that doesn't have some even limited social structure around him. I'd go back to what Dr. Post said. One of the important things about the Internet is socialization, someone who, 20 years ago, in the pre-Internet days, didn't have another person who thought like him might have moved more slowly down a path. We saw this, by the way, not just in terrorism. I saw it in child pornography. It was hideous.
MUDDSomeone who at the age of 17 or 18 would not have been drawn in now can find somebody who's like-minded. The second thing I'd say is the importance of the Internet is not necessarily in starting someone down a path. Often in the other investigations I saw, another human being brought a youngster down a path, and then the Internet accelerated the process by showing someone images or sermons that led them to believe what they were doing was right.
REHMIs it really possible, though, Michael German, to take an individual who's been on these websites, who's speaking to others on these website and follow a path to radicalization?
GERMANWell, that's really the difficult part, is the idea of this path, you know, and a lot of the government studies show a very straight line from adopting an idea to becoming a terrorist. But empirical studies show that's not true, that in fact, there are varied paths. And, you know, most of the people who see these websites never commit an act of violence. Most of the people who hold these ideologies never commit an act of terrorist violence. So, you know, we have to be careful in how closely we're associating the two.
POSTYes. One of the interesting observations is that it may be quite happenstance what leads the radicalized person to the act, for example, the destruction of his family's house in Palestine, the death of a brother in an action. So it's really -- the issue of how one gets from radicalization to committing an act may be a personal loss, a personal tragedy that pushes him over the edge.
REHMBut I guess what I'm trying to get at is how important each of you believes the Internet is in this entire process. Dr. Post.
POSTI believe it's quite important. And again, agreeing with Phil Mudd, the issue of not starting off the process but accelerating the process is reason to believe that individuals who are inclined in this direction will find these more radical websites confirming their views. And particularly attractive is I'm not alone. There are others like me who share these ideas. And, by the way -- and here's a handy-dandy recipe for using a fertilizer bomb.
GERMANSo, you know, in a previous generation, the advanced technology was the printing press, and governments all over the world would smash printing presses with the idea that if you could smash the technology, the information and the ideas won't spread. And obviously, there was terrorism long before there was an Internet.
GERMANAnd, you know, while the Internet has expanded all of our lives, we have to make sure that it's protected as a tool that's used because one of the things that technology has done is made them all so much more vulnerable because the ones and zeroes that pass across this system are, of course, easily traced.
REHMPhilip Mudd, as a veteran of both the CIA and the FBI and the author of "Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda," is it possible to know who might commit an act of terrorism by monitoring what websites they go to?
MUDDI don't think it is possible. I think it's possible to look at activity -- in a world where civil liberties are different than what we have in the United States, to look at activity and say, are there people who should be of interest? Now you've got to combine that with human intervention. You can't just determine that somebody's watching an extremist sermon and say they're going to blow up something the next day. But you might say people with these characteristics might be of interest.
MUDDYou know, as (word?), of course, that raises a bunch of issues about free speech. There are a lot of radicals in the United States and that's legal. But you can look at information, I think, and determine who -- what portion of the population is more likely to go down this path. The question is, do you want to do that?
POSTBut does this mean we monitor everyone's email? And that, of course, violates all sorts of civil liberties and raises spectrum of a plea state. That was suggested at one time during the height of anxieties after 9/11 and -- with the comforting nostrum the innocent need not fear. Well, we do fear. And it's really important in trying to counter terrorism that we not descend to the level of the terrorist or we've lost this...
REHMBut as a psychologist, looking at the young people or people, who are mostly men who become radicalized, are many of them simply romantic adolescents? Are they simply caught up in drama? What happens?
POSTSome of these are romantic adolescents. And indeed, there's a belief in some quarters that without the act of facilitation of the -- of your former organization, the FBI, Michael, that they would not have had the wherewithal to move as far as they did and become involved almost in an entrapment, the Christmas Eve on Portland, Ore. as an example.
POSTFor still others, there's an inclination in this direction. And I've been looking at the issue of lone wolves and wolf packs, and we've seen groups, small groups who become socialized. And there's a reverberating, intensifying, mirroring effect of only going to those extreme websites which can magnify their views.
REHMAnd, Michael German, as a former member of the FBI, I'm thinking about this situation out in Minneapolis which was reported yesterday, the putting together of bomb materials and the like. How can we possibly know whether somehow the Internet was involved?
GERMANWell, I'm sure the forensic investigation that will go on now will be part of determining that. But, you know, I think one of the things that we have to be careful of, you know, whenever there's an intelligence failure, there's the idea that more has to be done, more surveillance. But sometimes it's that there's so much being collected that it overwhelms the people doing the investigations.
REHMMichael German, he's with the American Civil Liberties Union. He was with the FBI for 16 years. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about radicalization on the Internet, whether it's actually possible to become radicalized because one goes to certain sites, sees certain postings from individuals who have been radicalized and whether that sort of sucks people in. And, Michael German, you don't believe there is this path.
GERMANWhat many, at this point, empirical studies of terrorists show is that there are multiple pathways and that the ideology is not necessarily a driving factor in each person's journey to committing an act of violence.
REHMDo we know how many people are going to these radical websites? Philip Mudd.
MUDDI would say we don't. But what I saw in terms of things like white supremacist, sovereign citizen organizations, Islamic militants, Christian militants is that people in the United States don't understand the level of extremism in this country, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. And the problem we face is a practitioner. Mike mentioned the problem of data. I think that's too tactical. The problem we face is more strategic.
MUDDInstead, Americans say, protect my liberties in light of hundreds of thousands or millions of extremists. But then when the Russian Security Service and the Russian government comes in and says, we're worried about these kids, Americans say, why weren't you up on them? And my answer is if you want to live in the land of the free, we're not going to be up on every single person who's an extremist.
GERMANBut if you look at that case, there was a specific warning of potential criminal activity. It wasn't that, you know, there were two parts of that warning, one that he has radicalized. And, Phil, I agree with you completely. That's not something the government really has business focusing on. But the other that he had plans to travel to Russia to meet with underground groups, that is potentially a criminal activity.
REHMDid we know that he was planning to meet with underground groups? He said he was just going home.
GERMANAccording to the FBI's press release, they said the warning advised them of that. So that is something that's a fact question that the FBI has every authority to go and investigate. Obviously, they had the authorities. They did investigate. I think that the problem was they applied a profile that didn't fit what their expectation of somebody who would be a threat was rather than focusing on is this allegation that he's traveling to Russia to meet with underground groups true because then the travel, obviously, should've caused more -- raised more questions.
MUDDI don't buy it. The problem we have here is Americans think this is an episodic business that appears in the Boston Globe or The Washington Post every three months or six months. In fact, what I witnessed for 10 years of threat briefings at the CIA and the FBI, this is a volume business. The volume and the threat matrix every day is 10, 20, 30.
MUDDYou cannot investigate every person that a foreign security service says is a bad guy, especially when they're talking about meeting underground groups. I mean, to me, this is potentially political opposition in Russia. The volume of this mitigates against complete investigations of every person who comes under suspicion.
REHMAll right. And joining us now -- let's see -- from New York City is Michael Moynihan. He is cultural news editor for Newsweek Daily Beast. He recently wrote a story titled "My week in the online terror underworld." Good morning, Michael. Thanks for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL MOYNIHANThanks for having me.
REHMTell me why you decided to spend a week in the online terror underworld.
MOYNIHANWell, you know, after what happened in Boston, we were hearing, you know, quite a bit and I think sort of inaccurate and undefined word of self-radicalization, this idea that, you know, these two brothers or at least one of them went into this kind of fetid swamps of Internet jihad and came out the other end very violent. You know, and I was, of course, to some degree, skeptical of that as the sort of lone motivating factor.
MOYNIHANObviously, there is many, many layers and many, many factors that produce radicals. But nevertheless, I mean, I was sort of interested in what's this world was and what it was like, and so I am sort of poking around. You know, after 9/11, we heard a lot about, you know, chatter on jihadist forums, that there were these, you know, forums where they would swap stories and news and whatnot, instructions on how to fight and how to build bombs and things.
MOYNIHANAnd, you know, when I was poking around, I found very, very quickly that much of this had migrated to the world of social media. So I spent -- I ended up spending most of that time in the week on Facebook, building a profile and friending people -- "friending people" that were parts of very, very strange (unintelligible)...
REHMOK. Now, wait a minute. I must stop you there.
REHMI gather you became part of jihadist circles on Facebook.
MOYNIHANYes. Yeah. I mean, what I did was essentially found people on Facebook that were, you know, associated with very radical groups, very radical clerics and preachers. And to be clear, I mean, as I made clear in my piece, this is a very small sliver of the sort of Muslim community on Facebook, that there is -- there, you know, if you dig long enough, you find a lot of sort of terrifying groups out there, spreading -- basically spreading propaganda.
MOYNIHANThe point of these things, of course, is not to persuade. I mean, they don't use reason. There's no reason implied whatsoever. They expect that in some sense that you're coming to this with a good base in kind of radical thoughts and radical ideology.
REHMAnd I gather what you were subjected to was constant images of dead children mostly killed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
MOYNIHANYeah. I mean, this is -- I mean, there is a sort of pornography to the whole thing, is that, you know, you have this sort of feed on Facebook that shows you what your, "friends" are posting and what they're viewing and what they're interested in. And, you know, in every second, a post was an image of either dead or mangled child or wounded child.
MOYNIHANAnd, you know, it is very affecting, and it is horrifying to watch. And, of course, you don't know the providence of these photos you're presuming. And I think it's right to presume with 80,000-plus dead in Syria that these are victims of, you know, an Assad offensive. But that was the (unintelligible)...
REHMAnd as your network grew, you said you became desensitized with all those images.
MOYNIHANYeah. I mean, I think it was interesting is that Americans were, you know, having a conversation about this one particular photo after Boston -- and it was, I think, a necessary conversation -- of one of the victims whose leg had been blown off and was being pushed away from the scene in a wheelchair. It became sort of an iconic photo, and it was very, very gruesome.
MOYNIHANAnd, you know, most news organizations that posted it on their website either cropped it or said, you know, click here if you want to see the whole thing. This type of thing, when you're scrolling through these sort of forums and groups on Facebook and online, is absolutely de rigueur. It's absolutely par for the course. I mean, just, you know, body parts blown off and real sort of the standardization of violence and (unintelligible)...
REHMOK. And one last question. Did you think you were being monitored by law enforcement?
MOYNIHANI hoped I was. There was -- I had this presumption. I mean, there is -- I had a joke with my editor that, you know, I'm having a conversation with 50 different FBI and agents of MI5 and MI6. But I would presume that this stuff is being monitored. You know, but there are some people that are very open about it who just don't seem to care.
MOYNIHANAnd they say, well, I'm going to Syria for (word?), their own names, and there's way to crosscheck these things. But most of it is very subterranean, and it's most people trying to evade capture. And they talk openly about things like how to build bombs and how to stand while firing an AK-47 and how to evade surveillance. So all of those people also presumed they were being surveilled.
REHMAll right. Michael Moynihan. He is with Newsweek Daily Beast. He recently wrote a story, "My week in the online terror underworld." Thanks for joining us.
MOYNIHANThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd, Dr. Post, how easily do you believe one can, by joining up with one of these networks, become not only desensitized, but follow perhaps not a straight path but a curly path toward becoming radicalized?
POSTA great deal depends on the context of the life of the person who's going out there online. What we have come to observe is that individuals who have not been able to integrate within society are feeling rebuffed find a great comfort in having site that says, it's not us, it's them. They -- United States, Great Britain, whomever -- are the enemy trying to destroy us. And therefore it becomes not only not immoral to strike out against them, it becomes a moral imperative to do so. And...
REHMAnd do you see these kinds of groups reaching out more actively to individuals who come online?
POSTYes. Indeed there's a trolling online by a small group who radicalizes al-Awlaki -- who, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should note, was the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University at one time -- was seeking lonely, isolated individuals. The email traffic between my psychiatric colleague, Maj. Hasan at Fort Hood, and him was really quite interesting.
POSTHe had heard some sermons in Northern Virginia and then asked him an email question: Is it, according to the Quran, legitimate or required to kill soldiers if the soldiers are going to kill Muslims? Michael tells me that was not responded to. But the fact of someone asking that question, which got picked up in monitoring al-Awlaki's emails, should have been a red flag. But, again, the question of volume and getting lost in that massive volume is a huge problem.
GERMANAnd that's exactly what the Webster Commission found, was that the agents were so overwhelmed with the volume of material they were looking at on a daily basis because the scope of what they're collecting is so broad now. So, you know, rather than focusing on indicators of behavior that's illegal, rather than ideas we don't like -- I mean, I was undercover for over a year in neo-Nazi groups. There were a lot of people expressing ideas I didn't like, but it was a very small cadre that were doing criminal acts.
GERMANAnd by requiring -- at that point, the FBI required a reasonable suspicion of criminality to focus on individuals. So that threshold compelled me to focus my investigation and actually helped me be more effective because I wasn't wasting a lot of time talking to people whose views I didn't like, but who actually weren't engaged in criminal activity.
REHMAnd, Philip Mudd, with the proliferation of these kinds of groups in so many different areas, how in the world does counterintelligence operate?
MUDDWell, you've got to look at this not in isolation, but as part of a broader suite, if you will, of investigative options the government has. For example, do you have an informant that says somebody is moving away from a group because he doesn't feel that group is radical enough, and somebody says that person has violent tendencies and has talked about violence?
MUDDAt that point, you might say, well, I'd also be interested in looking at what he's looking at on the Internet, whether he's involved in a radical circle. So I wouldn't want to look at this in isolation partly because there's so much volume of extremism on the Internet and also because we can't look at extremism as a crime. Look at this in the context of how it fits into other investigative techniques.
REHMPhilip Mudd, he is with the New America Foundation, a veteran of the CIA and the FBI. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFFGood morning, and thank you for taking my call.
JEFFAnd I was listening to your panel, and this seems to me, appears to me, they are trying too hard to blame the Internet and other extraneous slangs -- I think I heard wolf packs -- when these brothers were influenced more heavily by their parents, their religious beliefs, and just a hate for Americans and America in general to the point that they would sacrifice their life to try and destroy us. And that's my comment.
MUDDJust -- I want to pick up on something Dr. Post said because I hate to agree on your show, but I do agree with him. We have to distinguish -- and maybe we are too subtle earlier in the show -- we have to distinguish between what initiates someone to go down a path and what accelerates. I agree with the caller. Again, maybe we didn't state it clearly earlier.
MUDDMost of what I saw in common with cases in Europe and Canada, for example, is there was a respected figure -- in this case, an older brother, in other cases it could be sort of a father figure -- who brought someone down a path who was impressionable, and then might show him those images that were talked about earlier. So there is a distinction between how someone starts down this path and how the Internet plays a role later on.
REHMDo you agree with that, Dr. Post?
POSTAbsolutely. And mentioning our British colleagues as they found their cases of so-called homegrown terrorism with the diasporans in Leeds who carried out the London transit bombings, one of the things they observed was that there was a sense of not having been accepted within British society. And in speaking with the head of the British Muslim Contact group, they adopted a strategy of reaching out to community leaders to, on the one hand, help them integrate more within society while respecting Islam, not making it a choice, but showing a cultural respect at the same time.
REHMMichael German, how much of a role do parents play?
GERMANWell, you know, I'm sure they have a significant influencing effect. And, you know, I think one of the keys is to make sure that we're not trying to fit a very complex problem into a very simple formula or profile, you know? And then -- and that's what sends you in the wrong direction.
REHMBut just go back to your undercover work with the neo-Nazi groups. How much of that was sort of handed down generation by generation?
GERMANSo that's what has informed a lot of my views on this is you had one young man who was interested in it, and his family had been involved in it. You know, he was born into the movement. But then you had another whose parents were very liberal, and he was rebelling against the liberal parents by becoming ultraconservative.
GERMANAnd you had another one who didn't know anything about the ideology. He just wanted to make bombs and blow things up, you know? So it's a different pathway for every individual, and we have to make sure we're focusing on facts and evidence and not on preconceived notions.
MUDDI find one piece of this fascinating, we should interject, and that is in the world of Islam -- whether it's in Somali community in Minneapolis or in the communities in places like Manchester and Leeds that are problematic in the U.K. -- it's often not the first-generation parents. The first-generation parents are connected to their home culture, and they're working hard to make a living in the new culture.
MUDDIt's the second and third generation who feel neither connected with the new culture nor connected with the old culture. That's why I thought the parallel in the United States between extremism among kids in Minneapolis was so close to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi kids we saw in British cases. The parents typically didn't know. They were working to make their way in American society and win the American dream.
REHMPhilip Mudd of the New America Foundation, veteran of the CIA, the FBI. His book is titled "Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about terrorism and its possible links to the use of the Internet. Michael, during the break you were talking about the amount, the volume of information being collected by the FBI, by the CIA.
REHMTalk about that.
GERMANSure. So there are, you know, a number of different programs, but there is an awful lot of open source collection, obviously, when somebody publishes something that's available for anybody to read, including the government. And, you know, as far as the collection authorities that have so significantly changed since 9/11 increasing the FBI and CIA's authority, I mean, we know that by 2008, the FBI had it with its investigative data warehouse 1.5 billion records.
REHMSo how does the FBI then look or gather important or filter important information out of that 1.5 billion pieces of data.
GERMANWell, that's the problem is that they often have to use some kind of profiling or filter that weighs different elements differently. And once you create that profile, particularly when its based on this flawed idea of radicalization, you're going to make mistakes, and you're going to miss what are significant issues.
GERMANI mean, there are a number of cases now where the FBI got specific warnings about particular individuals and didn't follow up on those specific warnings. So, you know, the volume is actually a problem, and what we need to do is figure out a way to narrow that volume. And I found in my career that having a threshold to justify an investigation, evidentiary threshold, was an effective way doing it, and that's what we used effectively in my cases.
REHMPhilip, any thoughts on how you take this huge volume and come up with relevant data?
MUDDSure. I think you have to think, if you excuse the term, algorithmically, that is, you look at something like hate speech on the Internet, which again is not something one would investigate, but if you combine that with -- let's take two other data points -- travel to Pakistan on a one-way ticket for an 18-year-old who pays cash with no family members and connection from his cellphone that he declares on a visa form to another counterterrorism case.
MUDDI'm not saying you would investigate that, but I'm saying it's too easy just to say we're mining information, looking at people speaking on the Internet. I think there are ways to look at suspicious people to be clear in a world where America has told the FBI, don't just respond, prevent.
REHMCan you do it, Dr. Post?
POSTI think it's important to be addressing something beyond the individual and to be looking at social patterns. You've mentioned Minneapolis a few times. There was a group of Somali second and third generation diasporans there who, as a group, went off to join al-Shabab in Somalia. And they were socializing amongst themselves wherein they're responding to extreme messages. But they got a sense of belonging, of meaning, of doing something important, and it's a sense of alienation from society which becomes a very important indicator in my way of thinking of...
REHMBut, you know, Dr. Post, people come here from various countries seeking a better life, seeking a possibility of work, the American way of life, and they don't find perhaps that it is living up to their expectation. Now, what are we, as Americans who've been here for a long time, supposed to do about that?
POSTOur streets are not paved with gold, you've observed, and indeed, there are many frustrated dreams, and there's a gap between the hopes and reality.
POSTAnd for some, that may intensify the connections with their homeland. There's a section of London they call Londonistan -- individuals traveling back and forth to Pakistan. And we know they weren't exactly homegrown. They had had some contact back in Pakistan with members of al-Qaida, shared technology in bomb making and so forth. So the issue of how to facilitate integration within American society is a crucial issue, and that, in turn, means community interventions.
POSTAnd that's something a colleague of mine, Steve Weine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has worked on, has done field work in Minneapolis and has been looking at this issue of how can we make community interventions which make them less vulnerable to the disappointments and loss of not making it in society.
GERMANI think we have to be a little careful. I mean, because we are an immigrant nation, you know, people are often concerned about what's going on in the homeland, and when the homeland is in conflict, they feel part of it. I mean, I grew up in the Irish Catholic community. And during a time where there is extreme conflict in Northern Ireland and, you know, there was a lot of U.S. -- American support for the Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland.
GERMANAnd it wasn't viewed as the way it's being viewed now is there is this black and white image. So I think we have to be careful and put this in context and keep in mind that this is still a very small number of acts of violence compared to the violence that unfortunately is all over our societies.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, Daniel.
DANIELI was just -- I wanted to comment on information overload earlier that's mentioned. I mean, if you go online and do a search on dog food right now...
DANIEL...Google will follow you all through for the next months pumping you advertisements related to dog food. And I don't understand how our -- the various agencies are working on protecting the nation cannot follow through and pinpoint on those folks who are going to those bad websites and posting these kinds of things up.
MUDDLet me offer some characteristics of a classic investigation. Someone travels to a troubled zone: Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan. They buy a cash ticket. They're 18 years old. They come from an immigrant family. They've looked at radical sites on the Internet, and they own a weapon. You tell me which of those is, A, illegal and, B, appropriate for the U.S. government to investigate.
MUDDThe problem I face as a practitioner is people talk out of both sides of their mouths. Make an open society safe, but don't invade my privacy. Let me be clear. We don't live in the land of secure. We live in the land of the free, and you sacrifice security for freedom. That's it.
REHMSo how far are we willing to go to sacrifice security for freedom?
GERMANWell, I think what the flawed logic there is that sacrificing your freedom does bring security. In fact, it doesn't. What I found is by focusing my investigation to using evidence of criminality actually protected both rights and improve security. So this idea that by invading the privacy of innocent people will somehow help you find guilty people is simply flawed logic, and what we need to do is get back to investigating people based on a factual evidentiary predicate.
REHMBut see, I understand Daniel's point. If you shop for dog food and Google knows you've shopped for dog food and they can track every single thing you do there from, why can't the government do exactly the same thing and filter out what's not relevant and what is?
GERMANBecause we have a Fourth Amendment to our Constitution that, you know, compels the government to use only reasonable searches based on a judicial warrant, so we have limits on what the government is allowed to view upon private contact.
MUDDJust a quick interjection. You know, it -- part of this is because of the newness of the Internet. We have common understandings as American about what intrusion is. In the airport, you're going to take your shoes off and nobody asks about it. If you walk outside Safeway and someone says, I want to see what's in your bag, you're going to say, no way. We do not have a common understanding in our digital, our electronic lives about this yet, and that's going to take a while.
POSTI think it's really important to stress that -- what is and what is not reasonable to search. All we have to do is monitor everyone's email with these brilliant filters, and we can identify -- this is an absurdity. We turn into a terrorist state if we do that. I think it's important to emphasize that part of the appeal of the radical Internet is it identifies enemies and legitimizes having enemies.
POSTIt's a comfort to have enemies. Rather than say I am a failure, I'm not making it in this world because of my inadequacies, it's really helpful on these radically extremist websites that say, it's not us, it's them. They are responsible for our problems. And that is a governing message throughout all of these websites.
REHMMichael, do you believe that Boston would have happened without a website, without the Internet?
GERMANCertainly, events like Boston happened before there was an Internet. So, you know, I mean, it's impossible to go back and look at a particular instance and take out any one factor. I mean, if, you know, one of the subjects had got on the USA boxing team, would that have ended, you know, diverted it?
GERMANI mean, I think Phil is right that, you know, we can't expect the government to predict the future. But unfortunately, the way that we have sort of turned over this trading privacy for security is problematic because it's making their -- it's making the volume of information being collected actually a hindrance for a successful investigation.
REHMSo how would you change the way information is collected?
GERMANHave it based on a reasonable factual predicate of wrongdoing, not just that somebody is getting bad ideas. A lot of people get bad ideas. But if you have a factual predicate of wrongdoing, then you can focus the investigations on that so that you can spend the appropriate amount of time on each investigation.
REHMBut doesn't that wait until after the fact?
GERMANAbsolutely not. My cases didn't wait 'till the after the fact. I was undercover for a year collecting evidence about ongoing criminal activity and preventing bombings that were being planned. So these were using factual predicates. It's just making sure that you're actually chasing evidence rather than ideas the government doesn't like.
MUDDI think we have to have a broader dialogue in this country about what electronic privacy is all about. And that is not a security dialogue, it's a political dialogue. I think the most troubling piece of Boston, though, is in contrast to what we saw in Fort Hood -- the shooting by Maj. Hasan in Texas -- and other cases in this country, there's not going to be a lesson here.
MUDDIf you are two brothers who don't communicate much, who get a simple weapons design and can place in a public access area that has 52 miles both ways of street and you want the Federal Security Services to find you, Americans look for simple answers so they can box something and put in a closet. There is no simple answer in this case.
REHMAll right. To Durham, N.C. Good morning, Mary.
MARYGood morning, Diane, and thank you for taking my call.
MARYAnd I want to say outright before I make my statement that this is one of the best panels I've ever heard when it comes to talking about this thing of terrorism and Islam. My basis is, why is there is so much emphasis on Islam when people talk about these kinds of things? And I never hear anybody remembering Timothy McVeigh. He wasn't a Muslim. The young man that killed that children up in Connecticut, he wasn't Muslim, neither the man -- that the young man that dealt with Columbine.
MARYSo I just feel that they don't just, you know, I like what one of the members of the panel said about the fact he mentioned Christian terrorists. I mean, I never heard that before, but it's true because anybody can be a terrorist. And I feel very sorry for the little 8-year-old that was killed up there, I feel sorry for any child that's killed. But I never heard them make a lot over the children that are daily being bombed and killed in Iraq before we left, not -- even in Afghanistan where...
REHMAll right. Mary, thanks for calling, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Is there too much emphasis, Dr. Post, on Muslims and Islam?
POSTAbsolutely. And I have worked as a colleague with a young woman, Farhana Ali, and we've written about the transmigration from suicide being prohibited by the Koran to martyrdom being valued. And she is an ardent opponent of the demonization of Islam. I assumed that, first, that indeed this was a right-wing extremist, not unlike you're focusing on the neo-Nazis in your work. April 19 was a holy day.
POSTIn the right-wing calendar, it was the day -- it was not only a bunker -- I'm sorry -- Battle of Lexington and Concord. It was when Waco had that conflagration, and McVeigh was seeking to commemorate Waco on April 19. And these are called patriots' groups. And this was the Patriots' Day in Boston. So we find in every belief extremists, and how to distinguish the beliefs from the actions, that's the dilemma we're really struggling with.
REHMAnd what Michael is talking about is somehow making those connections between actions whether it's all got to be undercover. I don't know how you do it. How do you it, Dr. Post?
POSTWell, I don't think there is a ready answer to that. We -- and we need a long-range strategy for countering these ideas that are out there. For a quite while, we were in no -- we were leaving an open field for extremist ideas to be out there. There are efforts now to counter them. There are deradicalization programs.
POSTAnd a number of countries overseas have captured terrorists as an attempt to have intervening in some of these websites, people who are countering what the radical imams were saying, for example. But there is no -- this is going to be generations long to struggle.
MUDDYou know, I hate to end the program on a positive note. But when we first went after al-Qaida, the people we faced, like the architect of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were deeply ideological whether you agree with him or not. And, of course, we don't. They had profound understanding of what they're doing. We've transitioned the people who are emotional with just the thinnest veneer of ideology. These two guys in Boston don't understand what they're talking about, and their movement is dying because people don't believe in them.
REHMDo you agree with that, Michael?
GERMANYou know, I think if you look at the work of Dr. Marc Sageman, who studied terrorists, you know, there is no one model. They're very different. Some people are not very ideological involved in it. I mean, one of the things that I think your caller was on to, you know, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point put out its first report on non-Muslim terrorists on far-right extremists.
GERMANAnd what it found was the amount of fatalities was far greater, and yet we don't talk about in the same -- that in the same way. You mentioned at the start of the show the arrest the FBI made up in Minnesota, you know, that it's not getting nearly the same attention. There was a bombing last...
GERMANHopefully. The last bombing that was a fatality was in Oregon where anti-government militia people killed two police officers, but most people have never heard of it.
REHMMichael German, he's with the ACLU. He's with the FBI for 16 years. Philip Mudd of the New America Foundation, author of "Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda." And Jerrold Post, author of "The Mind of the Terrorist," director of the political psychology program at George Washington University, thank you all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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