The Path Forward for U.S. Terrorism Prevention Policies

U.S. government-led terrorism prevention approaches, formerly known as countering violent extremism (CVE), remain dramatically ineffective due to sustained political opposition and limited funding, a new report from RAND confirms. Titled “Practical Terrorism Prevention: Reexaming U.S. National Approaches to Addressing the Threat of Ideologically Motivated Violence,” the study argues that the U.S. should take a bottom-up approach in preventing terrorism through expanding both public-private sector partnerships and grant funding projects to state, local and community-based initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy tasked RAND to review previous CVE failures and provide policy recommendations for expanding prevention strategies moving forward. The report bases its findings on 100 discussions with nearly 175 individuals affiliated with federal, state and local institutions as well as non-governmental organizations.

The study measured DHS’s capabilities and overall effectiveness in preventing terrorism; reviewed former measures that proved effective in reducing radicalization; defined metrics that prove policy efficiency; compared DHS programs to its foreign partners; provided recommendations on how DHS should reorganize to address the threat; and reviewed other policy changes to enhance prevention. The report narrows policy options to the following categories: Online countermessaging, community education, referral promotion and mentorship programs, intervention, and recidivism reduction.

The report recommends the following policy recommendations:

  • “For countermessaging and intervention programming, the federal government should focus on funding and assisting state, local, and nongovernmental organizations and private actors rather than building capabilities itself.
  • The federal government should continue to provide community awareness briefings and training exercises to local groups. These activities were viewed by interviewees as successful in disseminating needed information. Recent reductions in staffing have limited federal capacity to do so.
  • Adapting existing tools like table-top exercises to help empower local areas to explore the types of terrorism prevention that are appropriate for their circumstances appeared to be promising.
  • Openness and transparency in training delivery would help to support trust in a controversial area, and using unclassified and open source information that can be shared broadly is more practical for efforts that must bridge many organizational boundaries.
  • Pursuing public-private partnerships and broadening support from nonsecurity agencies would be a practical approach to supporting terrorism prevention efforts in a way that is potentially more acceptable to communities and members of the public.
  • Building and maintaining the bench of expert practitioners will be important in developing programs from the national to the local levels.
  • Strengthening investment in evaluation would address criticism of the effectiveness of both past CVE and current terrorism prevention efforts in the future.”

Greater government efforts to fund community-based initiatives may yield slow beneficial results, however. The report notes that the previous CVE attempts which focused heavily on law enforcement approaches ultimately led to mutual distrust between law enforcement and certain segments of the population. Therefore, a new approach is needed that restores this trust and puts the local community at the forefront of the battle against domestic terrorism and extremism.

For more information on issues related to this piece, visit the HSDL featured topics section on global terrorism, domestic terrorism and lone wolf terrorism.

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Assessing Public Health Preparedness of States

Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) recently published its annual report for 2019, titled “Ready or Not: Protecting the Public’s Health From Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism,” which assesses states’ readiness to protect its residents based on ten criteria. Using data for 2017, the report concludes that, while overall emergency preparedness for health care providers has significantly increased since the 11 September 2001 attacks, certain states remain vulnerable to future disasters. This indeed raises serious concerns, as the report notes, since 2017 showed a rise in the frequency of extreme weather events as well as outbreaks of highly infectious diseases–both of which are predicted to increase in the coming years.

The report’s methodology assessed states based on the following ten indicators:

  1. “Incident Management: Adoption of the Nurse Licensure Compact
  2. Cross-Sector Community Collaboration: Percentage of hospitals participating in healthcare coalitions
  3. Institutional Quality: Accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board
  4. Institutional Quality: Accreditation by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program
  5. Institutional Quality: Size of the state public health budget, compared with the past year
  6. Water Security: Percentage of the population who used a community water system that failed to meet all applicable health-based standards
  7. Workforce Resiliency and Infection Control: Percentage of employed population with paid time off.
  8. Countermeasure Utilization: Percentage of people ages 6 months or older who received a seasonal flu vaccination.
  9. Patient Safety: Percentage of hospitals with a top-quality ranking (Grade A) on the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade.
  10. Health Security Surveillance: The public health laboratory has a plan for a six- to eight-week surge in testing capacity.”

As for the findings, “Ready or Not” praised collaboration efforts by health care providers and hospitals from different states to build mutual preparedness capabilities through various healthcare coalitions and other interactions. In addition, the report notes the increasing number of states that are accredited by either the Public Health Accreditation Board, the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, or both.

However, the report found that six percent of state residents who used the community water system did not have access to safe water that lived up to appropriate health standards. More alarming is the declining seasonal flu vaccination rate that fell from 47 percent of all Americans (6 or older) in the 2016-2017 season to 42 percent in the 2017-2018 season.

Another issue is the declining access of employed state residents to paid time off who, in turn, are more likely to go to work when they are sick and potentially spread infectious diseases. Lastly, was the issue that only 28 percent of hospitals received a top-quality patient safety grade.

To address these issues, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • “Providing stable, dedicated, and sufficient funding for preparedness activities and a significant funding increase for core public health capabilities.
  • Establishing a complementary emergency response fund to accelerate crisis responses.
  • Maintaining a long-term investment in the Global Health Security Agenda framework and global preparedness and response programs to help prevent infectious disease threats from becoming global crises.
  • Following the National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) with transparent goals, implementation plans, and budgets for all relevant agencies.
  • Closely monitoring the transition of the Strategic National Stockpile and significantly strengthening the “last mile” of distribution and dispensing.
  • Developing a multiyear strategic vision and fully funding surveillance infrastructure, for fast, accurate outbreak detection at all levels of government.
  • Bolstering the Hospital Preparedness Program and multisector healthcare collaboration as well as adopting state policies to improve healthcare delivery during disasters.
  • Adopting comprehensive climate change adaptation plans, including a public health assessment and response.
  • Increasing public and private investments in efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance, including through diagnostic, stewardship, detection, and treatment methods.
  • Supporting vaccine infrastructure and first-dollar coverage of recommended vaccines.
  • Promoting health equity in emergency preparedness planning, response, and recovery, including through the appointment of a chief equity or resilience officer. Taken together, action on TFAH’s recommendations would make the United States safer for all its residents.”

For more information on issues raised in this piece, please see the HSDL featured topics on pandemics and epidemics, hurricanes, and wildfires.

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Social Media Fueling Recruitment of Saudi Freedom Fighters

Saudi Foreign Fighters: Analysis of Leaked Islamic State Entry Documents is an examination of documents that were leaked to various media outlets and academic institutions in 2016 regarding the profiles of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) recruited to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. This study specifically examines the recruitment of fighters from Saudi Arabia.

In this report the biographical and socioeconomic information for 759 FTF recruited from Saudi Arabia were examined and compared to two prior studies that also examined Saudi jihadism: Jihad in Saudi Arabia by Thomas Hegghammer and, Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedouts from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTCWP).

The demographics examined in this study were age, marital status, number of children, region of origin in Saudi Arabia, previous experience outside of Saudi Arabia, education level and discipline of expertise/education, religiosity, and previous occupation. Saudi FTF are neither predominantly privileged or underprivileged but come from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Jihadists were not particularly religious at time of recruitment.

This data paints a picture of the average Saudi IS jihadist as a young and inexperienced fighter, part of a new generation of Saudi jihadists who have been radicalised in response to new sets of events and circumstances and are part of newly-formed radical social groups and networks.

The study concludes that social media is largely responsible for the recruitment of new jihadists to IS:

[The] role of the Internet, in particular social media, in making foreign opportunities for jihad more strongly vivid to young people cannot be overstated. It has enabled interaction, communication, and mobilisation in a way that was not previously possible.

Countering the movement of FTFs into IS will require tactics that address the new ways in which radicalization is accomplished.

Some of the links in this document require institutional access to view, read the full report here. Read the full CTCWP report here.

More resources and reports on can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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In Focus: Human Trafficking

New In Focus now available on Human Trafficking, with resources that address this crime which affects millions of men, women, and children every year in countries around the world, including the United States.

According the International Labour Organization,  “At any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.” The Department of Homeland Security actively combats human trafficking through the efforts of the Blue Campaign.

Each HSDL In Focus brings together short lists of resources in the HSDL collection that are highly relevant to current events.

Please Note: An HSDL account may be required to view some resources.

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Center for Homeland Defense and Security Releases Annotated Multi-Media Version of Worldwide Threat Assessment

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) created the Annotated Worldwide Threat Assessment 2019—an interactive multi-media tool highlighting key features of the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community presented last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

This tool allows users to click through an outline version of the Assessment detailing the current primary threats to US national security; and, provides links to relevant supplemental information that support the issues raised in the report.

The primary global threats to US national security include:

Various regions present unique threats to US national security and these are detailed in an easy to navigate format. The regions outlined include Russia and China, East Asia, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Russia and Eurasia, Europe, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere.

Previous Annotated Worldwide Threat Assessments interactive presentations can be found here.

More resources and reports on can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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Quickly Moving Magnetic Pole Forces Early Update of World Magnetic Model

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) was developed to simulate and predict the movement of the Earth’s magnetic poles which diverge from true north and south by approximately 11 degrees. This divergence is constantly changing, however, so navigation and satellite systems rely on the WMM to maintain accuracy. The WMM is updated every five years to account for changes in the rate of movement of the Earth’s geomagnetic field.

Scientists from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) were forced to release an early update to the WMM in February when it was found that the movement of the north magnetic pole was accelerating. The government shutdown delayed this update from happening in January. The magnetic pole is now moving toward Siberia at a rate of more than 34 miles per year. The next update of the WMM was scheduled for—and will occur again—in 2020. Concerns that this may signal a full magnetic reversal have emerged as well. Reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field are common in the geological record, but have not occurred notably during the human epoch and certainly not during the technological age in which the effect on human society could be dramatic.

The WMM is crucial for supporting the U.S. defense sector and other governmental organizations. NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Military, Forest Service, and Geological Survey, and many more agencies, rely on inputs from the WMM to maintain navigation and satellite systems, all of which are vital for maintaining Homeland Security.

The NCEI invites individuals to become citizen scientists by installing and using an application called CrowdMag. Geolocation information from many users around the world helps scientists add greater resolution to models such as the WMM, improving navigational accuracy.

More resources and reports can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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Trump Administration Updates National Drug Control Strategy


This Strategy focuses on reducing access to drugs (illicit and pharmaceutical), improving access to treatment and recovery programs, disrupting illicit drug trafficking networks, and improving education and awareness programs. The predominant metric for success is identified as a reduction in number of people dying from drug use and overdose in the U.S.

The Strategy addresses the current opioid crisis, which President Trump declared a public health emergency in 2017, and recognizes the emerging threat from synthetic drugs. Synthetic drugs can be cheaper to make, easier to traffic, and more potent, possibly drawing a larger interest in the drug trafficking market. An increase in cocaine production and distribution since 2015 is also noted.

The President’s goal is to build a “stronger, healthier, drug free society today and in the years to come by drastically reducing the number of Americans losing their lives to drug addiction in today’s crisis.” The Strategy asks that federal, state, and tribal governments, the healthcare industry, local communities, and foreign partners work together to combat the challenge of drug use and addiction.

Some of the links in this report require institutional access, click here to access the full report.

More resources and reports can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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Combating Terrorist Financing

The U.S. Department of the Treasury released its

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorists, and weapons proliferation are the primary drivers of illicit financing activities, according to Illicit Finance Strategy report. Money laundering, misuse of the U.S. financial system, and abuse of virtual currencies facilitate the movement of money to terrorist organizations from activities such as fraud, drug trafficking, corruption, and human trafficking.

Three assessments accompanied the Illicit Finance Strategy: the National Money Laundering Risk Assessment, National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment, and a new assessment National Proliferation Financing Risk AssessmentThese assessments focus on specific components of the issue of terrorist financing. Primary terrorist organizations receiving support from illicit flows are identified as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaida (AQ), Al-Shabaab, and Hezbollah, and the affiliate organizations associated with these groups. Domestic fraud, tax evasion and drug trafficking liberate approximately $300 billion annually for potential money laundering. The use of illicit financing to proliferate weapons of mass destruction is a crucial issue facing counterterrorism financing efforts.

Several government organizations function to combat illicit terrorist financing. These assessments recommend continued collaboration between these organizations to disrupt potential threats, reduce vulnerabilities, and dismantle the criminal networks that support illicit flows.

Some of the links in this report require institutional access, click here to access the full reports.

More resources and reports can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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Cultures of Preparedness in Communities: A Role for Higher Education

The Federal Emergency Management Agency held a workshop at its Higher Education Program National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland, May 22-23, 2018. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together emergency managers and social scientists to explore the cultural context of emergency preparedness. A lack of cultural understanding is often cited as a reason why an emergency response may be weak or might fail in practice. The goal of this workshop was to understand how a more culturally aware approach might increase and improve community resilience during an emergency. A report on the findings of this workshop was released this month: Building Cultures of Preparedness: Report for the Emergency Management Higher Education Community

“This report highlights the vast diversity of American communities and households, indicating that a one-size-fits-all strategy is not well-suited to the specific demands of variable and distinctive environments – our Culture of Preparedness will have to be built one community at a time. Preparedness is a local matter, requiring solutions tailored to different cultural contexts and embraced by communities.”

Four principles guide the development of a Culture of Preparedness: trust, inclusion, cross-cultural communication, and support. This report provides real-world examples and strategies for implementing cultural preparedness practices in communities. It highlights the role educational institutions can play in providing an environment for community engagement and emergency preparedness education; in addition to facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration within a community for the purpose of developing emergency management protocols.

Some of the links in this report require institutional access, click here to access the full report.

More resources and reports can be found at the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

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Risk Identification and Site Criticality (RISC) Toolkit

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) created a new emergency preparedness guidance for Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) organizations. The HPH Risk Identification and Site Criticality (RISC) Toolkit provides public and private organizations with “an objective, data-driven all-hazards assessment” that can be tailored to fit site requirements.

The RISC Toolkit includes three modules allowing users to assess their vulnerabilities based on guidance developed by leading experts in emergency management, physical security, and cybersecurity. Specifically, the modules include the following steps:

– Identify site specific threats and hazards (intentional acts, natural hazards, unintended manmade events);
– Measure facility/asset vulnerabilities (emergency preparedness and resilience, physical and cybersecurity, critical dependencies); and
– Determine criticality and consequences (evaluation of damages, impacts on facility or asset functionality).

Furthermore, the Toolkit allows users to aggregate data, which enables risk trend analysis and information sharing among facilities and other stakeholders. In addition to regular updates, the Toolkit contains reference material along with specific sections on critical infrastructure protection. In order to maintain up-to-date data, the users can share their results securely with Federal partners through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Protected Critical Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program. Significantly, the Toolkit is free to download with no additional obligations associated with its use.

The HSDL offers many additional resources related to the issues of Critical Infrastructure Protection. Visit the Featured Topics for more on Active ShootersCyber Infrastructure Protection, Pandemics and Epidemics, Hurricanes, and Wildfires. Please note: HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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Views: 73