U.S. Trails Europe in Security Against Terror

An expert at the European Jewish Congress said it would take more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars before U.S. houses of worship and private firms, including nightclubs, could match Europe’s security arrangements. 

The attack on the dance floor of a California nightclub last week that left 13 dead, the 11 worshipers killed by a gunman Oct. 27 at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Oct. 26 pipe bomb suspect’s arrest for targeting prominent Democrats raise questions about what can be learned from other countries that are used to dealing with radical domestic terror and violence, reports USA Today. In Israel, it’s hard to enter a supermarket or a bus station without passing through a metal detector. Britain responded to years of politically motivated bombing campaigns by Northern Ireland’s paramilitaries by installing closed-circuit television cameras on every street corner. Today, the country has a CCTV camera for every 11 people.

Armed guards, police security patrols, safe rooms and sophisticated surveillance systems are now routine measures deployed by Jewish synagogues, schools and restaurants in France after a wave of anti-Semitic attacks that began decades ago. Hungarian synagogues are linked by a centralized, rapid “early warning system” that alerts Jewish prayer houses in the rest of the eastern European nation of an attack. Japan removed trash cans from subway stations and local parks after a Sarin gas attack by one of its citizens killed 13 people and sickened thousands. Australia enacted sweeping gun control measures after a man killed 35 people with a semi-automatic weapon in a popular tourist area in 1996. It also banned rapid-fire guns and offered to buy prohibited firearms. Research suggests it’s worked. Ophir Revach, CEO of a security center attached to the European Jewish Congress, said it would take more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars before U.S. houses of worship — synagogues, mosques, churches — and private firms, including nightclubs, would be able to match the security arrangements in Europe.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Bangladeshi Immigrant Guilty in Pipe Bomb Case

A federal jury in New York City convicted Akayed Ullah, who said he was inspired by the Islamic State to set off a pipe bomb last year in one of the city’s busiest transit hubs. On Dec. 11, Ullah, 28, detonated a low-tech device inside the passageway that connects the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Manhattan’s crowded Times Square subway station, injuring four people.

A federal jury in New York City convicted Akayed Ullah, who said he was inspired by  the Islamic State to set off a pipe bomb last year in one of the city’s busiest transit hubs, the Wall Street Journal reports. On Dec. 11, Ullah, 28, detonated a low-tech device inside the passageway that connects the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Manhattan’s crowded Times Square subway station. The explosion created chaos during the morning commute, alarming commuters and disrupting the city’s transit system. Four people, including Ullah, were injured.

The jury convicted Ullah of all criminal counts, including providing material support to a terrorist organization and use of a weapon of mass destruction. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan set sentencing for April 5. “Ullah’s sinister purpose was to harm and terrorize as many innocent people in his path as possible, by using deadly violence to make a political statement,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Ullah’s attorney said he had set off the bomb but only intended to kill himself. Prosecutors said Ullah constructed the bomb, which included Christmas tree lights, wires, screws and a nine-volt battery, at his apartment. Beginning in 2014, Bangladeshi immigrant Ullah viewed pro-Islamic State materials on the internet and began researching how to build a bomb about a year before the attack, prosecutors said. “I did it for the Islamic State,” Ullah told investigators.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Hate Crimes Terrorism?

No, argues the founding director of the John Jay College Center on Terrorism. The FBI definition of terrorism is already “slippery,” and stretching the definition further might threaten  civil liberties, he writes.

Last weekend’s attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was horrendous as well as startling, in large part because most observers thought antisemitism was on the wane in America.  Jews have enjoyed a large measure of success and acceptance here, especially in comparison with the fierce antisemitism that reigned in Europe for centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, and which thrives today in the Middle East.

A tragedy like the bombing of the synagogue, however, also sadly reminds us of the many acts of violence in this country that are racist in character.  No group is potentially free from racially motivated violence, and African Americans especially have long been familiar with such violence.

By my recent count, between 1991 and 2016 there were 45 acts of arson, bombings, mass murder, hate crimes, and other violence committed against Black churches. In 2013, the most recent year for which  federal data  is available, the FBI identified 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crimes. Black victims constituted 66 percent of the total.

There are many relevant questions to ask about hate crimes.  One is whether their nomenclature within the criminal justice system should be escalated so that such crimes are considered terrorism.  There’s an argument to be made for such an escalation.  The target is civilians; the violence is carried out by nonstate actors, indeed usually by individuals; the act itself is meant to instill fear and dread beyond the event itself; and media coverage amplifies the effects of the violence itself.

The one missing criterion in this list is that hate crimes are not political in the way that idea serves as one of the central meanings of terrorism, as opposed to all other forms of violence.

What we mean by “political,” of course, can be tricky. For Aristotle, politics related to the structure, organization, or administration of the state.  Most now would extend those ideas to the more general exercise of power, as well as the institutions and arenas in which such struggles occur.

Those engaged in terrorism, as an asymmetrical form of violence, generally seek to redress what they experience as a radical imbalance of power.  Their military inadequacies are compensated by a willingness to attack “soft” targets of innocent civilians.  That is the point.

Terrorist violence in fact by definition has a political point, that is, a specific political objective or set of political objectives.

The violence is not random.  A Palestinian may well hate Jews in general and as a people, or may not, but will bomb a busload of Israelis primarily to alter the fundamental power relations in the land.  Osama bin Laden attacked America on 9/11 to drive us out of the Middle East, among other objectives.

The Unabomber killed selected academic targets because he sought to awaken Americans to what he felt were the deadly, and apocalyptic, dangers of technology.  And so on.

Hate crimes don’t really fit into that larger sense of political objectives.  They stem from irrational hatreds and often flow from very disturbed, even psychotic, minds.  Often the motivation is parochial and sometimes personal.

Hate crimes are heinous, deeply offensive, and spiritually objectionable, but they seem not to fit into a strict definition of terrorism.

So what? If hate crimes and terrorism are like two overlapping circles that still leave a substantial empty space, won’t we mobilize our resources better against such vile acts by treating them as terrorism?

Here I would strongly disagree.

Since 9/11, America has developed a vast and, I would argue, rather terrifyingly large counter-terrorism infrastructure.  Our wars in the Middle East alone—fought to deal with terrorism–have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, created millions of refugees, and cost our economy between two and three trillion dollars; and we are more, rather than less, vulnerable to terrorism.

We have militarized society in the process with profound cultural, political, and spiritual meanings.  Police officers now often look more like soldiers than your friendly cop on the beat.  The eavesdropping ability of the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, and probably local police now exceed anything that was even imaginable before 9/11.  The dangers to our civil rights are real and tangible.

They do not need enhancement.

There is another issue to consider.  The FBI works with a very bad, even quirky, definition of terrorism that includes within it a phrase that makes destruction of property with a political motivation an act of terrorism.

Charles Strozier

Charles Strozier. Photo by Donnelly Marks

That means if someone—and it could include myself—were involved in a demonstration against global warming and in a momentary fit of frustration threw a brick through a McDonald’s window, he or she—I, in the example–could be arrested and tried for carrying out, not a criminal act of vandalism, but an act of terror.

There are unforeseen consequences, in other words, in escalating the definition of what we consider terrorism. The FBI definition, especially, is already inadequate, and slippery. We don’t need the categories of violence which fall under its jurisdiction indiscriminately extended.

Charles Strozier is professor of history at John Jay College and founding director, Emeritus, of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Terror Bomber Researched Victims on Internet, U.S. Says

Cesar Altieri Sayoc was arrested in Florida last week and charged with five federal crimes. The charges are likely to be enlarged now that 15 bombs have been found.

The Florida man accused of mailing bombs to prominent Democrats started planning what prosecutors call a domestic terrorist attack as early as July and kept lists on his laptop with the addresses of his intended victims, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 56, was arrested in Florida last week and charged with five federal crimes.Prosecutors said the bombs, sent in manila envelopes to at least 15 intended victims, including two former presidents, were clearly dangerous and intended to maximize harm. The FBI seized electronic devices from Sayoc’s white van, which the letter said had stickers showing crosshairs over images of some of the defendant’s intended victims.

The devices included a laptop with lists of addresses that match the labels on the packages that contained the bombs, prosecutors said. The laptop showed that Sayoc researched his targets. They said he searched online for phrases including “hilary clinton and family”; “james clapper wife and kids”; and “george soros and family.”  Sayoc’s phone also showed searches for phrases including  “michelle obama mailing address.” Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat running for Senate, received threatening Facebook messages from Sayoc in April. The messages were reported to Capitol Police and turned over to the FBI in July. Sayoc is likely to face additional criminal counts. While the complaint describes 13 bombs, two more have been intercepted since prosecutors filed charges.  One, intercepted by law enforcement on Friday, was addressed to Thomas Steyer, a Democratic donor and critic of President Trump, in San Francisco. Another, discovered on Monday, was addressed to CNN in Atlanta.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Focus on Islamic Terror Took Resources from Far-Right Surveillance: Report

The recent serial bombing plot and synagogue attack serve as reminders that the federal government’s strategy to prevent homegrown terrorism underwent a major shift in the Trump administration. The white supremacist threat no longer ranked as a prevention priority.

Over the past 17 years, deadly attacks in the U.S. by the far right have outnumbered those by radicalized Muslims by a ratio of 3-to-1, NPR reports, based on government and private groups’ analyses. The most recent attacks by white men on ideological and racist grounds serve as a reminder that the Trump administration’s “Islamo-centric view of terrorism” gutted a program aimed at preventing both white nationalists and homegrown Islamists from committing violence, The Atlantic reports. The former program, Countering Violent Extremism, was an interagency task force of officials from the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. Today the task force exists in name only.

In President Obama’s last year, according to the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships, George Selim, the office boasted 16 full-time employees, roughly 25 contractors, and a budget of more than $21 million. The Trump administration has renamed it the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships, and cut its staff to eight full-time employees and its budget to less than $3 million. The office “committed the sin” of focusing not just on Islamists but also on white supremacists, and so resources went elsewhere to emphasize law enforcement and Islamist terror over crime prevention and a broader array of threats, the magazine reports. In 2017, the FBI concluded that white supremacists killed more Americans from 2000 to 2016 than “any other domestic extremist movement.” But a White House aide at the time, Sebastian Gorka, dismissed such findings in advocating the shift in federal strategies, The Atlantic writes.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Attacks Prompt New Calls for Domestic Terrorism Law

Should the federal code make domestic terrorism a distinct crime? The Department of Justice responded to the latest attacks by announcing new efforts to track and study hate crimes, but experts debate whether that’s enough to counter the threat.

Both Cesar Sayoc, accused of sending more than a dozen explosive packages to high-profile critics of President Donald Trump, and Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, could face decades in prison. But neither will face charges of domestic terrorism because the federal code does not punish it as a separate crime, a point of sharp contention, the Associated Press reports. In the absence of domestic terrorism laws, the Justice Department relies on other statutes to prosecute ideologically motivated violence by people with no international ties. That makes it hard to track how often extremists driven by religious, racial or anti-government bias commit violence in the U.S, although NBC and others reported that the Department of Justice announced it will create a website to track hate-crime reports and commission a study on hate crimes.

Opponents of domestic terrorism laws told the AP that prosecutors already have enough tools. They worry about using tools like secret warrants to monitor communications in domestic cases and contend that increased powers could run afoul of civil liberties protection. “You want to be really careful given the current political context about who would be put on that list because you don’t want them put on there for purely punitive reasons,” said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University law school’s Center on National Security. Mary McCord, a former top Justice Department official in the Obama administration, favors a law that puts domestic terrorism on “the same moral plain” as international terrorism. “Terrorism offenses are done purposely to send a much broader message, and so having that be the charged crime puts that label on that and says, ‘This is someone who committed a terrorism act,’” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Attacks Prompt New Calls for Domestic Terrorism Law

Should the federal code make domestic terrorism a distinct crime? The Department of Justice responded to the latest attacks by announcing new efforts to track and study hate crimes, but experts debate whether that’s enough to counter the threat.

Both Cesar Sayoc, accused of sending more than a dozen explosive packages to high-profile critics of President Donald Trump, and Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, could face decades in prison. But neither will face charges of domestic terrorism because the federal code does not punish it as a separate crime, a point of sharp contention, the Associated Press reports. In the absence of domestic terrorism laws, the Justice Department relies on other statutes to prosecute ideologically motivated violence by people with no international ties. That makes it hard to track how often extremists driven by religious, racial or anti-government bias commit violence in the U.S, although NBC and others reported that the Department of Justice announced it will create a website to track hate-crime reports and commission a study on hate crimes.

Opponents of domestic terrorism laws told the AP that prosecutors already have enough tools. They worry about using tools like secret warrants to monitor communications in domestic cases and contend that increased powers could run afoul of civil liberties protection. “You want to be really careful given the current political context about who would be put on that list because you don’t want them put on there for purely punitive reasons,” said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University law school’s Center on National Security. Mary McCord, a former top Justice Department official in the Obama administration, favors a law that puts domestic terrorism on “the same moral plain” as international terrorism. “Terrorism offenses are done purposely to send a much broader message, and so having that be the charged crime puts that label on that and says, ‘This is someone who committed a terrorism act,’” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Mail-Bomb Defendant Called ‘Very, Very Disturbed’ Man

“The family has always from a young age encouraged [Cesar Savoc] to get treatment and mental health counseling,” said hisformer layer, Ronald Lowy said. “He refuses. He gets angry. He says, ‘I hate you, you think I’m abnormal.’ He just won’t see reality.”

As a young man, Cesar Sayoc struggled with mental health problems, but his family could not persuade him to seek help. Sayoc, facing federal charges for mailing bomb-like devices to top Democrats and media personalities, would get angry when his relatives asked him to seek help, said Ronald Lowy, a Miami lawyer who has represented Sayoc and his family, reports USA Today. “The family has always from a young age encouraged him to get treatment and mental health counseling,” Lowy said. “He refuses. He gets angry. He says, ‘I hate you, you think I’m abnormal.’ He just won’t see reality.” Sayoc, 56, was arrested Friday. The former strip club worker and pizza parlor employee listed his mother’s Aventura, Fl., condo as his residence, but he has lived for as many as six years in a van. He was identified by authorities as the man who put pipe bombs in small manila envelopes, affixed six stamps and sent them to some of President Trump’s most prominent critics.

A lawyer who deposed him was stunned by his outlandish, and untrue, claims on a resume that included being a professional soccer player, an aspiring veterinarian and a financial wizard able to raise struggling businesses from near collapse. Mostly, Sayoc lived a troubled life, unable to hold a job, and unlikely to maintain friendships. Sayoc’s aunt, Theresa Sharp-Russell of Boca Raton, described her nephew as a “very, very disturbed” man who struggled to stay out of trouble and lost touch with family. Sharp-Russell sold Sayoc a home in 2006. The home later went into foreclosure, and he lost it in 2009. He led for bankruptcy in 2012. Sharp-Russell said her nephew is not a terrorist. She described Sayoc as a “kid who wanted attention. He was looking for a father figure. He found it in Trump.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Suspicious Packages Addressed to Sen. Booker, Clapper

The newly discovered devices resembling pipe bombs bring to more than a dozen so far the number of packages addressed to media and Trump critics. The president denies any link to his inflammatory rhetoric.

Suspicious packages addressed to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper — and similar in appearance to pipe bomb devices sent to prominent Democrats — have been intercepted, the FBI said Friday. Investigators scrambled to locate the culprit and motives behind a bizarre plot aimed at critics of President Trump, the Associated Press reports. The discoveries brought to 12 the total number of devices addressed to Democratic figures including former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. The package to Booker was intercepted in Florida. The one discovered at a Manhattan postal facility was addressed to Clapper c/o CNN. An earlier package had been sent to former Obama CIA Director John Brennan in care of CNN.

Investigators were analyzing the crude devices to determine whether they were intended to detonate or simply sow fear just before Election Day. Law enforcement officials said  the devices, containing timers and batteries, were not rigged like booby-trapped package bombs that would explode upon opening. They were uncertain whether the devices were poorly designed or never intended to cause harm. A postal database search suggested at least some may have been mailed from Florida. Investigators are checking a postal facility in Opa-locka, Fl., where they believe some of the packages originated. Details about the devices came as the four-day mail bomb scare spread nationwide, drawing investigators from dozens of federal, state and local agencies. Trump claimed on Friday he was being blamed for the mail bombs addressed to his critics, complaining in a tweet, “Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘it’s just not Presidential!’ ”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Pipe Bombs Are Sent to Biden, De Niro

None of the devices exploded, but the packages, sent to prominent Democrats critical of President Trump, underscored the heightened political tensions and fears two weeks before midterm elections.

Suspicious packages addressed to actor Robert De Niro and former Vice President Joe Biden were intercepted Thursday, the Associated Press reports. Investigators said they were similar to crude pipe bombs sent to former President Obama, Hillary Clinton and CNN. None of the devices exploded, but the packages, sent to prominent Democrats critical of President Trump, underscored the heightened political tensions and fears two weeks before national midterm elections. Police said package was recovered in Manhattan addressed to De Niro, who dropped an expletive insult at Trump at this year’s Tony Awards. De Niro had apologized to Canadians for the “idiotic behavior of my president.”

Biden criticized Trump as recently as last week, saying Trump may not “know what he’s doing” and coddles dictators. The package addressed to Biden was intercepted at a Delaware mail facility. Suspicious packages have been seized in New York, Washington, D.C., Florida and California. Trump still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant “lock her up.” He often singles out cable news network CNN and other news media whose reporting he does not like, terming them “fake news.” On Thursday, Trump again blamed the media for the “anger” in society. “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” he said in a Tweet. Hours earlier, he took a softer tone at a rally in Wisconsin. “Let’s get along,” he said. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?” The bombs seized Wednesday, each with a small battery, were about six inches long and packed with powder and broken glass, said a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images.

from https://thecrimereport.org