A high-level U.S. Department of Homeland Security official didn’t hesitate Thursday when asked onstage at a national terrorism summit what advice he’d first give to the next president.
“The need for CVE and putting in place a plan for prevention is more critical than it has ever been,’’ said George Selim, using a shorthand reference for Countering Violent Extremism. CVE is the umbrella term for policies thwarting the recruitment of young people by terrorist organizations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The prevention strategy Selim highlighted goes far beyond law enforcement interdiction. It includes community-level programs — such as those that rely on sports, arts and educational opportunities — to engage at-risk young people. Selim was one of many speakers at the Minnesota summit to underscore the value of these programs. But regrettably, those who most need to hear the message were in short supply in the audience.
Although experts agree on the value of this outreach, Congress continues to fund it at a level suggesting lawmakers aren’t serious about terrorism prevention. In 2016, lawmakers provided just $10 million in dedicated grants funding for community-level CVE youth programming.
The outlook for the next few years isn’t promising, either, because of the procedural Catch-22 created by congressional appropriators. Lawmakers on committees that make key spending recommendations want results before they provide more robust funding. But the programs first need adequate funding to work effectively. In addition, it will take time for so-called “soft” CVE approaches to deliver on their promise.
Minnesota Reps. Keith Ellison and Tom Emmer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar attended the summit. It should inspire them to go back to Washington and work even harder to strengthen funding. The rest of the state’s delegation needs to ramp up efforts as well. The usual wait-and-see attitude isn’t acceptable when national security is at stake and terrorists have unprecedented access to young Americans.
Supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have sent as many as 90,000 tweets a day as they work to lure young men and women to Syria, according to some estimates. Other social-media efforts are chillingly savvy in communicating with their young targets. Thursday’s summit showed several examples of slickly produced online advertisements for ISIL. “This is our Call of Duty,” read one that emulated marketing for the popular “Call of Duty” video game.
The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs was a fitting venue for the summit, which brought top law enforcement and terrorism experts here for the event sponsored by Global Minnesota.
The Humphrey School is just blocks from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, whose high-rise apartments are the epicenter of Minnesota’s Somali-American community, one of the largest in the U.S. Young people there have also been targets for roughly a decade for recruiters from Al-Shabab and ISIL. A small but alarming number — 50 — have either joined jihadis in Syria or Somalia or have been stopped on the way.
Minnesota lawmakers took an admirable step this year to protect young Somali-Americans from terror recruiters by approving $2 million in funding for Somali youth development programming. Experts, however, believe that $5 million a year is needed here.
Minnesota has more work to do, but it is taking its CVE prevention funding responsibilities seriously. Congress needs to do the same.