A government document obtained by journalists at The Intercept reveals the National Counterterrorism Center developed a complex set of criteria to help determine if individuals in the U.S. may be more vulnerable than others to the allure of violent extremism and created a "rating system" that would help law enforcement agents rank such prospects.
The rating system, part of a 36-page document dated May 2014 and titled “Countering Violent Extremism: A Guide for Practitioners and Analysts,” suggests that police, social workers and educators rate individuals on a scale of one to five in categories such as: “Expressions of Hopelessness, Futility,” “Talk of Harming Self or Others,” and “Connection to Group Identity (Race, Nationality, Religion, Ethnicity).” The ranking system is supposed to alert government officials to individuals at risk of turning to radical violence, and to families or communities at risk of incubating extremist ideologies.
Families are judged on factors such as “Aware[ness] of Each Other’s Activities,” as well as levels of “Parent-Child Bonding,” and communities are rated by access to health care and social services, in addition to “presence of ideologues or recruiters” as potential risk factors.
A low score in any of these categories would indicate a high risk of “susceptibility to engage in violent extremism,” according to the document. It encourages users of the guide to plot the scores on a graph to determine what “interventions” could halt the process of radicalization before it happens.
Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, told The Intercept he thought the criteria being used by the government to guage whether individuals might fall into extremism was both "subjective and specious."
"The idea that the federal government would encourage local police, teachers, medical and social service employees to rate the communities, individuals and families they serve for their potential to become terrorists is abhorrent on its face," he said.
Furthermore, and despite White House assurances that such programs are not directed towards specific demographic groups over others, Arun Kundnani, a professor at New York University said it's "obvious," given the details of the program, that such a program "would mostly only be applied to Muslim communities."
Kundnani also scoffed at the science underlying the document's rating system, saying, "There’s no evidence to support the idea that terrorism can be substantively correlated with such factors to do with family, identity, and emotional well-being."
Asked by The Intercept for an explanation of the document, the National Counterterrorism Center declined to comment.
Though the reporters of Monday's story do not mention the origin of the NCTC document, it has been largely verified that The Intercept has been receiving materials related to the U.S. national security system by a still unidentified "leaker" – someone with access to information who, like NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has been willing to pass potentially sensitive internal documents to journalists for public disclosure.