When the Going Gets Tough, Contradict Yourself and Outsource

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Date: 
April 28, 2016
Author: 
Andrea Hall

Are you a social worker, counselor or religious leader with secret aspirations to be the next James Bond, American style? Good news: the FBI has a program just for you! Shared Responsibility Committees (SRCs) will allow you to do your job AND rat out your clients to national law enforcement. Cool, huh?

Um, don’t order that bullet-proof sports car with ejectable seat just yet. Unfortunately, SRCs appear to be just another rebranding of the U.S. government’s worn-out CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) program, riddled with the same problems as all of its previous iterations. Designed in response to the many voices calling for counseling in lieu of jail time for those suspected of “radicalization” (never mind that they’ve never committed an act of violence), SRCs appear to be yet another intelligence-gathering mechanism. And all of this, experts say, is based on discredited theories of what makes a person turn to violence.

For some time now civil liberties and human rights groups have been complaining that domestic CVE is a thinly guised surveillance program targeting Muslim communities in the U.S. Most notably, pilot programs in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Boston run by the FBI included sting operations that entrapped Muslim youth who otherwise likely never would have considered traveling to fight with terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. The FBI has even enlisted teachers in the effort, calling on high schools around the country to report any student who engages “in communications indicating support for extremist ideologies.”  

Now, The Intercept has obtained an FBI letter addressed to potential SRC participants that looks like a lesson in doublespeak. It begins by asserting that the program will not be used for intelligence gathering, but later states that information obtained may be shared with spy agencies and foreign governments. It explains that groups should be voluntarily formed in local communities, sometimes at the urging of the FBI, but that all referrals to the SRC’s counseling programs would be done by federal law enforcement, and only if “the SRC operates consistent with the principles and expectations set out” in the letter. “The FBI is not a member of the SRC,” the letter notes. But you can bet it knows if you’ve been sleeping.

The FBI retains the right to investigate individuals referred to the SRC and may or may not share that information with the Committee. SRC members can be subpoenaed for documents or testimony in civil or criminal litigation (Holy HIPPA violation, Batman!). At the same time, SRC members must sign confidentiality agreements and cannot consult outside experts on treatment.

Not surprisingly, Muslim and civil liberties activists aren’t happy with the SRC program either. After initial backlash, SRCs were put on hold, only to rise again like a zombie apocalypse. Except this time it’s all super-secret. Maybe the FBI is fed up with all the criticism. Apparently their new motto is “When the going gets tough, outsource to the community.”