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

Today, the Brennan Center 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."

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 naren.daniel@nyu.edu