FBI: Preppers, outdoorsmen have terror potential
A document distributed by the FBI to help agents gauge the likelihood that an individual will carry out a violent attack suggests that a desire to avoid government snooping, enjoying outdoor activities and simply having access to weapons are all possible indicators of extremism.
The secret document, a 48-item questionnaire called “Indicators of Mobilization to Violence,” was obtained by reporters at The Intercept. According to reports, the agency has been using it as part of its terror investigations since fall 2015.
Many of the questions listed on the document make perfect sense, including items that encourage agents to consider whether individuals have recently attempted travel to terror-prone regions or “articulated a desire to conduct violent jihad or obtain martyrdom.”
Other questions, however, aren’t so straightforward.
Many deal with the emotional state of subjects of investigation. For instance, the questionnaire asks if an individual has experienced a recent personal setback such as a job loss, dissolution of a close relationship or any other “humiliation.”
Two of the most worrisome of the questions fall under a section of the document labeled “Training and Preparation”:
“Has the subject sought training in the use of weapons or explosives?”
“Has the subject participated in activities that simulate military or operational environments (e.g. paintball, airsoft, laser tag, shooting ranges, camping/survival trips, etc.)?”
These questions give agents reason to scrutinize American preppers, 2nd Amendment advocates and outdoor enthusiasts as potential terrorists.
Other questions involving an individual’s efforts to secure online communications and other digital activity threaten the rights of civil liberties and privacy advocates.
The questions, of course, represent only a handful of the questions on the survey which are used to calculate “the subject’s level of mobilization or likelihood of carrying out a violent act.” And the FBI stresses that even high scores “do not provide conclusive evidence that a subject will take violent action.”
Still, recent U.S. history provides that government questions about innocuous and constitutionally protected activities as even minor indicators of terroristic ambitions should be worrisome.
Worse yet, The Intercept interviewed a number of terror and privacy experts who concluded that the statistical rankings are mostly useless in helping the agency identify actual terrorists.
From the report:
Wadie Said, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and author of the book “Crimes of Terror,” about federal terrorism prosecutions, was even more negative on the prospect of such indicators.
“The idea of protecting people from violence is understandable. But how do you do that without falling into a trap of stereotypes and assumptions?” he said. “The idea that radicalization can be rendered into bite-size scores and equations under a pseudo-scientific name is deeply problematic.”
And when the government gets it wrong, there are very real consequences for law-abiding people.