“Countering Violent Extremism” Programs Provide Surveillance Infrastructure for Islamophobic Administration

March 16, 2017

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to revamp a controversial program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” to focus solely and explicitly on American Muslims, potentially even renaming it “Countering Islamic Extremism.” But a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the most comprehensive look yet at these programs since the Obama administration introduced them in 2011, finds they are already targeted almost exclusively at American Muslims. The report shows that CVE programs, which rely on debunked methodology lacking any record of counterterror success, provide a ready-made infrastructure for an administration openly hostile to Muslims to spy on American Muslim communities.

The report, based in part on information secured from law enforcement agencies through the Freedom of Information Act, finds that the premises underlying CVE programs’ efforts at identifying potential terrorists have long been disproven, calling into question whether they can make any tangible contribution to the war on terror. In fact, CVE damages American Muslim communities by tagging completely innocent individuals as potential terrorists. It has divided communities and increased distrust of law enforcement, neither of which is helpful for counterterrorism efforts.  

“In just a few short weeks, this administration has demonstrated through word and deed that it intends to target Muslims under the guise of stopping terrorism,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security program and author of the report. “While attention has been focused on new measures such as the travel ban, programs such as CVE which were started during the Obama administration also pose serious risks to American Muslims. To protect these communities, we must dismantle all programs that brand Islam as inherently violent and label criticism of U.S. foreign policy as a sign of a potential terrorism. The threat of terrorism is real, but policies like the travel ban and CVE which harm American Muslims and have no security benefit must be scrapped.”

CVE programs take three forms:

  • Efforts to identify individual American Muslim as potential terrorists, often on the basis of supposedly radical views, which the report recommends dismantling;
  • Funding services to communities based on the theory that economic and social conditions facilitate terrorism, which the report recommends delinking from counterterrorism and law enforcement; and
  • Encouraging companies to remove “radical” content from the Internet and promoting online efforts to counter propaganda from ISIS-like groups, for which the report suggests greater transparency and procedural safeguards.

Read the full report, Countering Violent Extremism.

Review related documents secured through the Freedom of Information Act.

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.