CATF Reports Sep. 19, 2016, 9:47am

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hosted a hearing entitled Radicalization in the U.S. and the Rise of Terrorism. The hearing, which was held in order to “address the scope of radicalization, and assess what steps can be taken to mitigate the rise of terror via lone wolf attacks and organized terrorist plots,” was certainly not lacking in the scope of its aims. Yet, as a result of the open structure often adopted for Congressional hearings, a number of experts on countering violent extremism were able to underscore a variety of distinct, yet critical points on reducing U.S. and global vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Their calls for action were demanding and likely difficult to implement but they do highlight shortcomings in U.S. policy and paths to diminish the threat of radicalization and violent extremism.

Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, opened the hearing with his testimony focused on the rising importance and widespread availability of encrypted communication services and social media outlets throughout the world. Dr. Gartenstein-Ross stressed that governments have lost their comparative advantage in areas of intelligence gathering due to the spread of encrypted services, a trend that has resulted in certain terrorist attacks being incorrectly labeled as “lone wolf attacks” without a complete understanding of the complexity and threat of terrorist networks. Then, Mr. Matt Mayer of the American Enterprise Institute urged the national security establishment to incorporate local law enforcement into the fight against terrorism through the use of local HUMINT collection and the development of Regional Outreach Groups (ROGs) to bring local police and Muslim community groups together. Finally, Mr. Cohen, President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, stressed that terrorism and extremism in general are associated with ideologies beyond perverse forms of Islam and that the U.S. must be careful not to create distrust by solely targeting Muslim communities.

While hearings on U.S. foreign policy and developing strategies to counter terrorism have become common practice in Washington D.C., experts have cited a diminishing impact of their research on government policy. However, thoughtful testimonies, like that of Dr. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, and papers provide an opportunity for policymakers to reflect on their awareness of issues of extreme importance. In this case, an insistence on searching for terrorist networks behind an attack, before declaring them “lone wolf attacks,” may lead to the discovery of another attack in the making and lives being saved.


From the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing:


  • To address the scope of radicalization, and assess what steps can be taken to mitigate the rise of terror via lone wolf attacks and organized terrorist plots.

  • There have been numerous terrorist atrocities conducted by radicalized individuals in cities such as San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels, Nice, Ankara, and Istanbul, to name a few.
  • Such attacks, committed by radicalized Islamic extremists targeting unsuspecting populations in vulnerable public places, appear to be the new template for terrorist activity. The randomness of these attacks makes it difficult for law enforcement to protect the public.
  • Technological advances have enabled vulnerable Homegrown Violent Extremists, both foreign fighters and lone wolves, to be recruited, radicalized, and mobilized for terror attacks via social media in mere days.”

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