Rep. Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will introduce a bill Thursday to establish a full-time federal office dedicated to combating violent extremism on U.S. soil and developing a counter-messaging program aimed at dulling Islamic State propaganda.
The legislation will call for an assistant secretary to run the office, which will operate out of the Department of Homeland Security, according to a congressional aide familiar with the chairman’s plans. The office would be responsible for coordinating all of DHS’ efforts to counter violent extremism and to identify risk factors, populations and communities at risk for recruitment to violent extremism and message to them.
“Chairman McCaul is stepping up to the plate on this critical issue that the Obama administration has neglected for far too long,” the aide told The Times.
Earlier this month, Mr. McCaul, Texas Republican, blasted the Obama administration for its lackluster effort to counter extremists by dedicating sufficient manpower and funding to it.
“Terror threats to the U.S. homeland have reached unprecedented levels. There have been 116 homegrown jihadist plots in America since 9/11 — more than half of those have occurred in just the past three years,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement Friday. “Violent extremism is going viral, but our response to it is moving at bureaucratic, sluggish speed. It is time for President Obama to admit that — in this new age of peer-to-peer terror — we need a real strategy to combat radicalization at home and destroy extremist safe havens abroad.”
Over the past three weeks, there have been at least 10 arrests by the FBI of U.S. citizens who were plotting to various attacks on the homeland on behalf of the Islamic State. Most of those who have heeded the siren calls of the radical extremist organization planned to kill soldiers at military facilities and attempted to assail law enforcement officers. Often these calls are proliferated through social media messages, online magazines and other Internet-based propaganda.
A centralized federal agency who’s job is to counter these threats is a step in the right direction, said David Inserra, a homeland security and cybersecurity research associate for The Heritage Foundation.
“I think what we need to see is more responsibility given to one government agency,” he said. “We sort of thought that should be the Department of Homeland Security. DHS regularly works with the private sector on a whole host of issues.”
The federal government indeed needs to be doing more to support the various state and local governments, Mr. Inserra said. DHS is the most obvious candidate and appropriate place to house a new office, new efforts — or perhaps a new task force — to work on leading the federal government’s efforts to support state and local partners, he added.
But not everyone in the national security arena thinks Mr. McCaul’s plan will be the panacea to halt homegrown terrorism.
“I think that congressman McCaul’s proposal has complicated and challenging issues to address because it crosses over the current responsibilities of several federal agencies,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. John Altenburg. “It’s difficult to see how the Department of Homeland Security would be the appropriate place for such an entity.”