Brennan Center Files Suit to Make “Countering Violent Extremism” Records Public

January 29, 2016

Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act for records pertaining to an inter-agency initiative known as “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE).  The CVE initiative is designed to identify and preempt Americans from becoming involved in “violent extremism” and is being implemented in Muslim communities in several parts of the country, including the three formally designated pilot cities of Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.  

CVE programs generally operate on the assumption that there are visible signs that can be used to identify potential terrorists. Although multiple empirical studies have concluded that there is no typical path or predictive signs that a person follows to become a terrorist, CVE programs seek to engage families, religious leaders, students, school teachers and the like in tagging young people as potential terrorists. Many in the communities targeted by CVE programs have expressed grave concerns that they stigmatize Muslims as inherently suspect and serve as a cover of intelligence gathering.

“This is an attempt to get answers to a few basic questions about CVE,” said Faiza Patel, co-director the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “How are communities and schools expected to identify potential terrorists when the government’s own experts concede there are no telltale signs? When do schoolteachers have to report a troubled Muslim teen as a potential terrorist? What safeguards are in place to protect free speech and freedom of religion?”

Despite millions of dollars in CVE spending and a high-publicity government campaign, little real information has been made public about how current CVE initiatives actually function, raising concerns about discrimination, misuse to target political speech and religious observance, and ineffectiveness. Today’s lawsuit aims to increase transparency of the government’s ongoing CVE efforts.     

“Counterterrorism is a matter of enormous national significance, and the public has a right to know if the CVE initiative relies on flawed theories of terrorist radicalization,” said Michael Price, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program and author of the complaint. “Such programs are not only ineffective, but they also lead to unnecessary fear, discrimination, and unjustified reporting to law enforcement.”

Read the Brennan Center’s full complaint.

Read a fact sheet on “Countering Violent Extremism.”

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Liberty & National Security.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or