It was said of the French Revolution that it ended up devouring its own children. Something similar is occurring within the United States national-security establishment, as extreme responses surface in the wake of the Charlie Hebdomassacre in Paris.
In the National Security Council (NSC) there has been serious consideration of “temporarily” eliminating visa waivers for select European countries where there are large minority Muslim populations. Currently most Europeans can travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa, leading to concerns that “home grown” European terrorists can easily enter this country, obtain weapons, and stage a Charlie Hebdo in Times Square.
The drive to “do something” is based on the White House assessment that countries like France and Belgium are unable to manage their domestic terrorism problems, potentially permitting them to spill over against targets in the United States. Discussions in the NSC regarding options to limit travel have been strongly opposed by the Department of State, which does not have the resources to begin again issuing large numbers of visas at many of its overseas posts. Foreign governments would also be seriously upset by such a move and would undoubtedly retaliate against traveling Americans.
Charlie Hebdo has also revived consideration of what to do about the possible development of more “insider” terrorism inside the United States, exemplified by the Washington Navy Yard killings in 2013 and the shooting carried out by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in 2009. Possible steps to take to identify individuals who are considered “high risk” from a security point of view are again being considered, though the government is reluctant to describe its deliberations in those terms, lest it be accused of profiling. Internally, however, a number of federal security and law-enforcement agencies have begun to tighten up their vetting practices for employees who were either born or have family in what are now being referred to as “conflict zones.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has institutionalized stricter monitoring of some employees as part of the Post-Adjudication Risk Management program, which involves more frequent and more stringent security screenings. The employees themselves are reported to be angry at the procedures they are forced to endure, as many believe—probably correctly—that inclusion in the program is both arbitrary and damaging to promotion prospects. Many of those affected are linguists or foreign-culture specialists who are critical to FBI efforts to monitor local immigrant communities in the United States. Some might even argue that the increased scrutiny is likely to produce at least a few embittered employees without necessarily enhancing national security.
Other national-security agencies have followed the FBI lead, though they have been reluctant to formalize a category of at-risk employees through creation of an actual program. Since the Washington Navy Yard incident, the use of polygraphs for many employees with access to classified information has doubled, and there has been greatly increased monitoring of internal communications. Critics of the disruption and expense involved in the search for “insiders” also note that the United States has been relatively immune from international terrorism since 9/11 precisely because American Muslims are so well assimilated, which could shift perceptibly if there develops a widespread belief that they are not trusted by the government that employs them.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.