Defense Secretary Ash Carter: Law enforcement, intelligence an important part of the fight against ISIS

posted at 9:21 pm on March 23, 2016 by John Sexton

In an interview with CNN’s Carol Costello, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter says it’s time for Europe to step up its fight against ISIS but adds that the Brussels attack shows the response to the terror group has to be more than a military operation. In fact, Carter thinks Europe needs more effort from law enforcement including intelligence gathered on citizens who may be ISIS sympathizers. From CNN:

“It is not enough that we defeat them in Iraq and Syria. What Brussels tell us is that they have sympathizers, people who are Belgians or French, who live there already. Therefore an important part of the fight is also going to be a homeland security, intelligence and law enforcement fight,” Carter said.

He noted that the U.S. has fewer self-radicalized individuals who travel to Syria and commit terror, but said that the law enforcement and intelligence community is on alert for such home-grown threats.

One interesting aspect of this is that, as I noted earlier, Ted Cruz is being attacked today by everyone from President Obama to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to CBS’s Norah O’Donnell for suggesting that, in the wake of the Brussels attack, it is necessary to step up law enforcement efforts in Muslim neighborhoods. Specifically, Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

On the surface at least, what Cruz said is not so different from what Ash Carter seems to be saying is needed in places like Molenbeek, the Belgian neighborhood where police captured Europe’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, last Friday. In fact, the LA Times heard Cruz’s statement as a reference to Molenbeek:

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz raised the specter of a Molenbeek in the U.S., saying Tuesday that “we need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

Note that Carter’s statement specifically references “intelligence” in relation to “people who are Belgians or French.” In other words, he’s talking about governments collecting information on citizens who might be “sympathizers” with ISIS. He also specifically says this is a “law enforcement” matter and part of the “fight.”

Carter doesn’t specify who the sympathizers might be or where they might be found but, again, the raids taking place in Belgium are happening in heavily Muslim neighborhoods like Molenbeek. If French and Belgian law enforcement are going to collect intelligence on possible ISIS sympathizers, it’s a reasonable guess that’s where they will focus their efforts.

Again, it’s not the same thing Ted Cruz said but it’s not completely dissimilar either. That’s especially true when you consider what Cruz said on CBS earlier today about the type of program he was envisioning:

What does law enforcement do with pro-active policing? You go into the neighborhoods where gang violence is a problem and you work pro-actively to get the gang members off the street. And, by the way, the people you’re protecting are the residents of those communities who are typically the victims.

It would be very interesting to see what Ash Carter would say if asked whether he was recommending Europe engage in “pro-active policing” in communities at risk for radicalization. Maybe that’s not what he had in mind but if not what did he mean by suggesting more intelligence and law enforcement efforts aimed at potential citizen sympathizers. Is he not talking about neighborhoods like Molenbeek? If he’s not, where does he think these law enforcement efforts should be directed? And if he is talking about these neighborhoods, as I think he probably is, how are his comments substantially different from what Cruz suggested?

One possibility is that Carter is talking about France and Belgium and Cruz is talking about the United States. Maybe there is an argument to be made, which Carter seems to allude to, that things are different here because we don’t have hundreds of fighters returning from battlefields like Syria. But it’s also worth nothing that is not the argument President Obama made today when attacking Cruz. His argument, if you can call it that, was to suggest the very idea of neighborhood intelligence gathering directed toward Muslim communities was something one would only expect to see in a dictatorship like Cuba. If that’s true, why is his SecDef recommending similar sounding efforts be stepped up in Europe? When it comes to dealing with possible ISIS sympathizers who are also citizens of the home country, where exactly is the line between getting a pointed presidential rebuke and being a valued member of the president’s team?

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