FPI Conference Call: Radical Ideologies and Threats to the Homeland

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Expert Speakers:

Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino
Program on Extremism at George Washington University

Moderated by:

Dr. David Adesnik
Foreign Policy Initiative


Key Quotations

The Difficulty of Preventing Attacks

“The FBI cannot get everybody. The reality is that you have a lot of people who operate in what I would call a ‘pre-criminal’ space. There are indeed a thousand investigations open, there’s arguably a larger number of people that the FBI knows are radical but do not have enough evidence to open an investigation on. And I think that’s sort of the story we heard on every single attack over the last few months. Chattanooga last summer, San Bernardino in December, and Orlando now.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“There are not enough resources to monitor everybody that is simply radicalized. Which at the end of the day is a non-criminal behavior. Being a radical is a constitutionally protected, First Amendment protected behavior.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“You have these individuals who at some point are on the radar screen of the FBI but for one reason or the other, the FBI could not really follow all the time who at some point decide to mobilize.” – Lorenzo Vidino

The FBI “Stretched Thin”

“What you hear when talking to any field agent is that they’re stretched very thin.” – David Gartenstein-Ross

“It’s something you clearly pick up in conservations with both the case officers and management, that they are stretched very thin, that they are dealing with an unparalleled number of cases and they do not have the manpower.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“If we have 1,000 investigations, that’s an unprecedented number, for each investigation you can argue with 2 or 3 other people who are not investigated, and potentially should be. There’s no way the FBI can keep up with that, so it’s a matter of manpower.” – Lorenzo Vidino

Near-Term Challenges

“One thing that deeply concerns me right now is what I see as a renewed lack of information sharing between agencies, specifically between intelligence agencies and law enforcement, when there’s information that’s relevant to law enforcement.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

“Lives could quite literally be riding on the question of whether the right information is getting in front of the right people.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

“The thing I’m most concerned about by far is an aviation attack. If there were to be a major terrorist attack that killed U.S. citizens, what I am concerned about is a transatlantic flight. It might be from Europe, it might be from West Africa, but it’s very clear that al-Qaeda in particular, but also ISIS, has increased its ability to attack aviation.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

“I think we need to take a good hard look at aviation security, bearing in mind that it seems that these groups have improved their ability to get around current measures that we have in place to try to find the bomb.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

The ISIS Threat in America

“There have been around a hundred individuals arrested over the last two years for ISIS-related activities and another hundred for other jihadist-related activities, non-ISIS, al-Qaeda, Shabaab, other groups. These are smaller numbers than countries like France, for example. But these are comparable numbers to other large European countries with similar Muslim populations to the U.S., like Spain or Italy.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“If you live in Europe [and] you espouse jihadist ideology, it’s very easy for you to get in touch with a facilitator, a gatekeeper, somebody that can let you go to where you want to join ISIS to fight. To open through the gates of jihad for you. If you live in the States, for a variety of reasons, it’s much more difficult. It’s partially because of geography, it’s partially because the FBI does a wonderful job arresting facilitators, it’s partially because the scene of facilitators is much smaller here than it is in Europe.” – Lorenzo Vidino

Lone Wolves

“My concern about lone wolf terrorism, about the labelling of lone wolf terrorism, is we tend to over-label. Basically, calling something lone wolf terrorism is the equivalent of political correctness within the counterterrorism sphere, and I am not saying that with any exaggeration. And it has cost lives in my view. Look at how quickly Orlando is described as an act of lone wolf terrorism. It wasn’t less than 24 hours, when we had no idea of what kind of connections [Orlando shooter Omar] Mateen may have had, it was less than 24 hours before people started calling it lone wolf terrorism.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

“You go back to the Brussels Jewish Museum shooting, you go back to the would-be train attack in the Amsterdam-Paris train, and you go back to a little known attack, the Villejuif church attack, which was so incompetently executed that the attacker shot himself in the leg and had to call authorities. But all of those were described as lone wolf attacks and none of them were. In every case there were significant connections to ISIS’s European attack network and had people looked harder and looked at their connections there would have been a much better chance of authorities being able to unravel that network which would carry out two major attacks [in Paris and Brussels] on European soil.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

“Let’s not begin with the hypothesis that an attack where we don’t see connections is ‘lone wolf’, instead let’s begin with the idea that we don’t know and let’s look for connections and let’s keep looking because sometimes those connections can be extremely important to stopping future attacks.” – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programs

“The U.S. is very much in its infancy when it comes to CVE. There has been a strategy put out in 2011, a lot of talk about it, but very little resources. Really, when it comes to money very, very little resources. More Americans have died fighting with jihadist groups in Syria than people that work in government, work on CVE.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“Radicalization happens at the local level, and therefore, deradicalization or radicalization prevention also needs to happen at the local level. You need a national strategy to coordinate, to allocate resources, to provide general guidelines, but at the end of the day, the entities that are better placed to carry out deradicalization or radicalization prevention are at the local level.” – Lorenzo Vidino

“[One-on-one interventions] would really, really help diminish the caseload for the FBI, if you can to some degree weed out the people who are just toying with the idea, who are at the very beginning of the radicalization trajectory you can convince, even just 40% of them, not to move forward, you reduce the caseload significantly for the FBI.” – Lorenzo Vidino


Speaker Biographies

Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who is best known for his granular analyses of jihadist organizations, his paradigmatic studies on the evolving role of violent non-state actors (VNSAs) in world politics, and his work on the intersection of new and emerging technologies with sub-state violence. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, a Fellow with Google’s Jigsaw, an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, and the Chief Executive Officer of Valens Global, a consulting firm focusing on the challenges posed by VNSAs.

Dr. Gartenstein-Ross is the author or volume editor of twenty-one books and monographs, and has published widely in the popular and academic press, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, and Terrorism & Political Violence. As a practitioner, Dr. Gartenstein-Ross has briefed high-level U.S. officials on the Islamic State’s terrorist network in Europe; provided detailed reporting on an Iraq-based VNSA to a security firm to support a live hostage negotiation; performed risk assessments for major firms in the oil and gas industry making investment decisions and determining how to protect their assets and personnel in the Middle East and Africa; lectured for U.S. military personnel preparing for overseas deployments through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace (LDESP) program; and designed and led crisis simulations for major academic institutions.Dr. Gartenstein-Ross has testified on his areas of core competency before the U.S. House and Senate a dozen times, as well as before the Canadian House of Commons. He holds a Ph.D. in world politics from the Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law. He can conduct research in five languages.

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino is the Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. An expert on Islamism in Europe and North America, his research over the past 15 years has focused on the mobilization dynamics of jihadist networks in the West; governmental counter-radicalization policies; and the activities of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired organizations in the West. A native of Italy who holds American citizenship, Dr. Vidino earned a law degree from the University of Milan Law School and a doctorate in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has held positions at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the RAND Corporation, and the Center for Security Studies (ETH Zurich).

The author of several books and numerous articles, Dr. Vidino’s most prominent work is The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, a book published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, with an Arabic edition released the following year by the Al Mesbar Studies and Research Center. The book offers a comparative study of Islamist organizing in various Western countries as well as the wide-ranging public policy responses by Western leaders. Dr. Vidino has testified before the U.S. Congress and other parliaments; advised law enforcement officials around the world; and taught at universities in the U.S. and Europe. He regularly provides commentary to diverse media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, The London Times, The Telegraph, Reuters, and more. He delivers presentations to a wide variety of audiences, including policymakers, students, and the general public.

Dr. David Adesnik is the Policy Director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, where he focuses on defense and strategy issues. Previously, David was a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. For two years, he served as deputy director for Joint Data Support at the U.S. Department of Defense, where he focused on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency. David also spent several years as a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses. In that capacity, he spent several months in Baghdad as analyst for Coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2008, he was part of the foreign policy and national security staff for John McCain’s presidential campaign. David holds a doctorate and master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale. 

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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