For the last six years, the U.S government has pushed resources toward a set of programs called Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE: grants to community organizations, U.S. attorneys’ offices, and police departments designed to derail people “at risk” of engaging in terrorism. Civil-liberties groups have long argued that CVE is based on false premises: Ideology is not a clear predictor of terrorism, they say, and there is no “pathway” to committing violence. Muslim groups have also worried that the program is a means of surveilling and arresting members of their communities, despite the Obama administration’s assurances otherwise.
New documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by the Brennan Center for Justice suggest these fears were well-founded. In an internal memo, officials at the FBI—one of the main agencies involved in CVE—acknowledged that engagement with radical ideas is not a clear predictor of terrorist acts. And in another document, the Bureau described CVE as a means of strengthening its “investigative [and] intelligence gathering” abilities, which seems to contradict the Obama administration’s claims that CVE is not about law enforcement.
These findings are just the latest evidence in a wave of critiques of the program, which have come from both the left and the right. With the Trump administration eyeing CVE for potential rebranding or elimination, civil-liberties advocates may ironically get their wish to see the end of the program. But if it’s replaced with increased efforts to target American Muslim communities with law enforcement, they may not like what comes next.