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Activists Want More Transparency in Counterterrorism Efforts

Muslim groups and civil rights activists across the nation are calling for greater transparency in a program by President Barack Obama’s administration that’s aimed at countering homegrown terrorism.

The organizers are speaking out Thursday through coordinated efforts in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, the three cities where the Countering Violent Extremism program is being piloted.

Representatives of the groups, which include local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will be speaking at Karmel Square in Minneapolis, in front of Boston City Hall and at the Los Angeles office of CAIR just before noon in each city.

Among their primary concerns is that federal agencies continue to host invitation-only discussions about the program, referred to as CVE, to the exclusion of dissenting groups.

And despite months of planning, opponents say CVE organizers still refuse to share basic information about how these programs will actually work.

“This isn’t a community-based process,” Nadeem Mazen, a city councilor in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, and board member of the local CAIR chapter, said at the Boston event. “This is a whole different level of federally-coordinated assault on our civil liberties.”

Shannon Erwin, of the Boston-based Muslim Justice League, said the CVE program is dividing the local Muslim community between “good Muslims” who have been allowed to participate and “bad Muslims” who haven’t.

“We can’t allow this to infiltrate our social services and our communities because this will make us weaker as a society,” she said. “We need to trust one another and not programs that aren’t based on sound evidence.”

Liza Behrendt, an organizer of Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, suggested CVE was already generating backlash and fueling religious and racial tensions locally, pointing to anti-Muslim fliers that were scattered in the Boston-area city of Revere this year.

“We are fooling ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that these attacks and programs like Countering Violent Extremism are directly linked,” she said.

Representatives for Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office is coordinating the Boston program, attended the City Hall event but declined to comment.

In February, CVE organizers in the three cities released “framework” documents broadly sketching out their local objectives.

The goal of the program is to have law enforcement and community leaders work together to prevent radicalization from taking root among young people and others vulnerable to extremist propaganda like that spread online by the Islamic State group.

Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis have proposed a range of strategies to tackle the scourge, from town hall-style discussions for the Muslim community and educational and training sessions for school staff and social workers to mentorships and social media campaigns geared toward kids.

The cities were chosen because law enforcement officials there have been doing outreach for years to Muslim communities.

Thursday’s protests come as Congress is considering a proposal by the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security to create a dedicated CVE office in the department to coordinate all local efforts.

They also come as law enforcement officials in Boston tout their success in thwarting what they have described as two credible terrorist threats this summer.

The first was the June fatal shooting of 26-year-old Usaamah Rahim and the arrest of two others they say were accomplices in a planned attack on police. The second was the July arrest of 23-year-old Alexander Ciccolo, the son of a Boston police captain. Officials say Ciccolo was plotting to detonate a homemade bomb similar to the ones used in the Boston Marathon attacks on a college campus in support of the Islamic State group.


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