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Brennan Center vs. Department of Homeland Security & Department of Justice

The Brennan Center filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and their components over records related to the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program.

Published: February 4, 2016

The Brennan Center filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for records pertaining to the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative. The CVE program is an inter-agency initiative led by DOJ, DHS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) , and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), that is designed to identify and preempt Americans from becoming involved in “violent extremism.”

In 2014, the White House launched a series of CVE initiatives based on the Obama administration’s 2011 national strategy for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States and the related Strategic Implementation Plan. CVE “pilot programs” have subsequently been created in the cities of Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis- St. Paul as a means of countering the homegrown terror threat. Among other things, CVE programs seek to identify individuals who might become terrorists. This effort rests on the empirically disproven premise that there are visible signs that can be used to identify potential terrorists. Multiple empirical studies have concluded that there is no linear path or predictive signs for individuals who become terrorists. CVE programs nevertheless aim to engage families and communities—including religious leaders, mental healthcare providers, and teachers—in marking young people as potential terrorists; and these warning signs frequently implicate First-Amendment protected speech and political activity as suspicious.

In December 2014, the Brennan Center filed a series of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests for documents pertaining to the operations and funding of the CVE initiative. After a year-long process to obtain records from DHS and DOJ proved unsuccessful, the Brennan Center filed litigation requesting the court to order immediate disclosure of the records. These records would provide significant information about the highly-publicized, well-funded CVE initiative, including information about what criteria are being used to target individuals; transparency about the financing and implementation of these programs; policies and procedures governing their operation; and constitutional safeguards, if any, against civil liberties violations within these programs. As the complaint argues, the public has a right to know more about a program that has raised concerns for its unjustified targeting of American Muslims and its impact on these communities’ civil liberties and constitutional rights.   

Read the complaint here.

Read the Brennan Center’s resource page on CVE here

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