U.S. News

Rights group sues for details of U.S. counter terrorism effort

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A civil liberties group said on Friday it has sued the U.S. government for more information about a federal program that tries to enlist Americans in helping to identify and discourage violent extremism in their communities.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University said it filed the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan to force the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to release records about their “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program. Critics for years have questioned its effectiveness.

The Brennan Center said the program relies on a flawed approach to counter terrorism that “all but ensures” it will stigmatize Muslims and reinforce Islamophobic stereotypes, suppress dissent, and sow discord in communities.

Spokespeople for Homeland Security and the Justice Department were not immediately available to comment.

The agencies set up a task force in January to boost the effort and other agencies have launched initiatives of their own. These actions came after President Barack Obama in 2011 unveiled a plan for “empowering local partners to prevent violent extremism in the United States.”

At the same time, the government has pressured Silicon Valley to more forcefully limit the proliferation of extremist communications online.

Over the past year, Facebook taken steps to more aggressively remove content. The company, which boasts 1.5 billion users, is also helping to fund an initiative led by Homeland Security and the State Department to outsource creation of online counter-messaging to college students.

Last year Congress allocated some $40 million for CVE, above the several hundred thousand dollars aides said the Obama administration had requested to cover travel expenses to meet with communities around the country. Roughly $10 million to $15 million is for state and local governments, aides said.

The program has been hampered by bureaucratic infighting, as some experts have advocated enlisting ultra-orthodox, nonviolent Islamic activists and scholars in deradicalization efforts. Other experts have argued that such activists sometimes help indoctrinate violent militants.

Writing by Julia Harte and Andy Sullivan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh