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White House Plans Community-Based Prevention Of Violent Ideologies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A White House plan aims to convene teachers and mental health professionals to intervene and help prevent Americans from turning to violent ideologies, work that is currently done mostly by federal law enforcement.

The 18-page plan announced on Wednesday and first reported by Reuters, marks the first time in five years that the Obama administration has updated its policy for preventing the spread of violent groups such as Islamic State, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq and recruits fighters worldwide.

Authorities blamed radical and violent ideologies as the motives for attacks in Charleston, South Carolina; San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; New York and New Jersey in 2015-16.

The policy aims to prevent conversions to all violent ideologies, including the white supremacist beliefs held by a gunman who killed nine black church members inside a historic African-American church in Charleston and the other shootings and bombs were inspired by Islamist militants. Critics said, however, that such efforts largely target Muslims.

In approximately 60 to 70 percent of the cases the federal government has prosecuted for terrorism or supporting terrorism, a family member or friend said they noticed the defendant was exhibiting strange behavior before they came to the attention of law enforcement, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“Parents are stuck in this horrible situation where they have to make a determination of ‘Is it better that my son joins ISIS and potentially dies or is it better that he spends 20 years in jail?'” said Hughes, referring to Islamic State.

The new White House strategy seeks to create “intervention teams” led by mental health professionals, faith-based groups, educators and others as a resource for people who find themselves in such circumstances. Intervention teams would seek to divert a person away from violence before they commit a violent act and without involving law enforcement agencies.

The Justice Department and Homeland Security Department also aim to enhance their social media campaigns to counter people being drawn to violence.

The White House plan drew both praise and criticism Wednesday afternoon from experts on counterterrorism and civil liberties advocates who said the plan is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough to prevent discrimination against Muslims.

CODE WORD

William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution policy research group in Washington, said the idea of asking “the community” to get involved with stopping violent ideology implies Muslim communities are aware of who may be violent jihadists and have the responsibility to stop them.

“The community is just a code word for the Muslim community, McCants said. “It only reinforces people’s fears that ‘the community’ is the problem.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said his counterterrorism strategy would rely on Muslims reporting on other Muslims. Democractic candidate Hillary Clinton has stated on her website that she plans to support law enforcement to build “trustful and strong relationships” with the American-Muslim community.

Prosecutors would still have a role in prevention efforts under the new policy, including arranging after-school programs. But those programs would not be allowed to serve a dual purpose for intelligence gathering, which civil liberties advocates have accused current programs of doing.

“In practice, what we have seen is programs are targeted unfairly at American-Muslim communities, seeing them through a security lens which alienates and stigmatizes,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project.

In Minneapolis, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger prosecuted 10 Somali-American men earlier this year for plotting to fight with the Islamic State overseas while simultaneously leading community outreach efforts with the same Somali community.

“We determined that efforts to build intervention teams are less likely to succeed if they are driven by the federal government,” said Brette Steele, acting deputy director of the U.S. government’s Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, suggesting that the teams should instead be community-led.

Only when a person is believed to “pose a threat or be immediately capable of committing a crime,” should law enforcement actions be taken, the policy states.

The policy also calls on the Justice Department to implement rehabilitation strategies that could include using former converts to violence as counselors for those convicted of terrorism.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)

Photo: Mourners outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Justice Department Charges NSA Contractor Stole Secret Data

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A National Security Agency contractor has been arrested and charged with stealing highly classified information, authorities said on Wednesday, a data breach that could mark a damaging new leak about the U.S. government’s surveillance efforts.

Harold Thomas Martin, 51, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, was taken into custody in Maryland in August, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Booze Allen is the consulting firm that employed Edward Snowden when he revealed the collection of metadata by the NSA in 2013.

Booz Allen said in a statement that when the company “learned of the arrest of one of its employees by the FBI,” they immediately fired the employee and offered full cooperation to the FBI.

The same month Martin was arrested, some of the NSA’s most sophisticated hacking tools were dumped onto public websites by a group calling itself Shadow Brokers.

The company’s stock was down 3.7 percent to $30.33 a share, following the report.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Martin, who had top secret national security clearance, with theft of classified government material, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Wednesday.

Word of the arrest followed a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer “source code” developed to hack into the networks of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other countries.

It was the latest disclosure of details of cyber spying by the U.S. government since Snowden stole and released a vast trove of documents that exposed the reach of the NSA’s surveillance programs at home and abroad. It comes at a time of growing concern over the cyberhacking of federal agencies and American political parties.

According to the complaint, documents found in Martin’s possession contained sensitive intelligence.

“These six documents were produced through sensitive government sources, methods, and capabilities, which are critical to a wide variety of national security issues,” the complaint said. It said Martin had the ability to access U.S. government property that was not permitted to leave its authorized location.

Martin’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Justice Department’s chief national security prosecutor, John Carlin, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

He said, however, that insider threats have long posed a challenge to the government.

“I’m sure the trusted professionals I work with across the community will take a hard look at anything they can learn from this case, whether it’s about contractors or other issues to see whether they can better defend our systems from others who might try to steal from them,” Carlin said in an interview on CSPAN.

Martin faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.

The leak of the NSA hacking tools coincided with U.S. officials saying they had concluded that Russia or its proxies were responsible for hacking political party organizations in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election. The Russian government has denied involvement.

Obama To Nominate Garland To Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Wednesday will nominate Merrick Garland, a veteran federal appeals court judge viewed as a moderate, to the U.S. Supreme Court, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer told Reuters.

The nomination of Garland, 63, who currently serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, would set up a potentially ferocious political showdown with Senate Republicans.

Garland, 63, is a long-time appellate judge and former prosecutor who Obama also considered when he filled two previous Supreme Court vacancies. Federal appeals court judge Sri Srinivasan also had been a finalist for the nomination.

Obama said in a statement released by the White House that he will unveil his nominee at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) in the White House Rose Garden. Schumer is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

Obama has been searching for a replacement for long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13.

Garland, who in the past has earned praise from lawmakers of both parties, was named to his current job by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1997, winning Senate confirmation in a 76-23 vote. Prior to that, he served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.

“I’m confident you’ll share my conviction that this American is not only eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice, but deserves a fair hearing, and an up-or-down vote,” Obama said in the statement ahead of his scheduled announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on any nominee picked by the Democratic president for the lifetime position on the court. Senate confirmation is required for any nominee to join the bench.

Obama said he hoped the Senate would do its job and “move quickly to consider my nominee.”

Without Scalia, the nine-member Supreme Court is evenly split with four liberals and four conservative justices. Obama’s nominee could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.

Republicans, hoping a candidate from their party wins the Nov. 8 presidential election, want the next president, who takes office in January, to make the selection.

Billionaire Donald Trump is the leading Republican presidential candidate. Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is the front-runner on the Democratic side.

Republicans and their allies already have geared up to fight Obama’s nominee. Republican National Committee on Monday announced the formation of a task force that will work with an outside conservative group to spearhead attack ads and other ways of pushing back against Obama’s choice.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has served as a springboard to the Supreme Court for several justices including Scalia in recent decades.

Obama may have been looking for a nominee who could convince the Republicans to change course. Garland could fit that bill with moderate record, background as a prosecutor and a history of drawing Republican support.

Garland was under consideration by Obama when he filled two prior high court vacancies. Obama already has named two justices to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor, who at 55 became the first Hispanic justice in 2009, and Elena Kagan, who was 50 when she became the fourth woman to ever serve on the court in 2010.

The Obama administration also regarded Garland as a future compromise choice if another vacancy opened in an election year with the Senate under Republican control, according to Obama advisers at the time and others weighing in on the current nomination. That is the situation now confronting Obama.

Presidents tend to pick nominees younger than Garland, so they can serve for decades and extend a president’s legacy. But Obama may reason that the choice of an older nominee might also entice Senate Republicans into considering Obama’s selection.

The Indian-born Srinivasan, 49, would have been the first Asian-American and first Hindu Supreme Court justice.

Trump, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, said it was critical for Republicans to take back the White House to avoid Democrats shaping the Supreme Court.

“You have four Supreme Court judgeships coming up, and that would mean they would take over, that would mean for 50 years, probably, this country will never be the same,” Trump said.

“The Republicans should do exactly what they are doing. I think they should wait till the next president and let the next president pick,” Trump said.

 

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Joan Biskupic; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham)

Photo: Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is seen in an undated handout picture. REUTERS/US Court of Appeals/Handout via Reuters