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.