Samuel RascoffSamuel Rascoff, assistant professor of law, testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at its February 15 hearing, “A Ticking Time Bomb: Counterterrorism Lessons from the U.S. Government’s Failure to Prevent the Fort Hood Attack.”

Responding to the committee’s newly released report on the November 2009 shooting rampage that left 13 dead and 29 wounded, Rascoff expounded in his testimony on three of the report’s findings. First, he said, while Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) are “indispensable” in combating domestic terrorism, it's unclear how “jointness” is defined.

Rascoff, former director of intelligence analysis at the New York City Police Department, wondered about the proper role of detailees from local police departments or other federal agencies assigned to JTTFs: “Do detailees effectively end up becoming viewed by their FBI managers as only so many extra personnel to whom those habitually strapped leaders can turn to perform tasks that might otherwise have fallen to FBI special agents?... JTTFs remain dominated by the strategic outlook of the FBI, and only imperfectly function as clearinghouses for domestic counterterrorism information and for the disparate perspectives on terrorism that are brought by federal and local agencies.”

He also raised the question of the FBI’s proper intelligence role in analyzing “homegrown threats.” In terms of understanding such threats, Rascoff said, the FBI and other federal agencies “ought to be leveraging much more effectively the know-how of local police officers, who, after all, know their terrain intimately, have lived and worked in their communities more or less their whole lives, and have a distinctive leg up on their federal counterparts when it comes to that kind of anthropological understanding of the world in which they operate.”

Finally, Rascoff asserted the need for a national counterradicalization strategy straight from the White House. While leadership from the top is needed, he argued, most of the implementation should rest with local actors—not just law enforcement and other government officials, but even schools, religious organizations, and other local nongovernmental entities.

“If we’re going to succeed and if we’re going to avoid some of the intensely knotty political and policy issues that have dominated the conversation about counterradicalization in the United Kingdom,” Rascoff said, “I think we’re going to need to lean heavily on our own communities, and specifically our Muslim communities, to play a key role in moving the agenda on counterradicalization.... We ought to be thinking more comprehensively about the possibility of needing new kinds of institutions and new models for marrying up federal and local know-how in this area.”

Posted on February 18, 2011