A recent memorandum authored by Attorney General William Barr announced a new “pre-crime” program inspired by “War on Terror” tactics and is set to be implemented next year.
Last Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys, law enforcement agencies and top ranking Justice Department officials announcing the imminent implementation of a new “national disruption and early engagement program” aimed at detecting potential mass shooters before they commit any crime.
Per the memorandum, Barr has “directed the Department [of Justice] and the FBI to lead an effort to refine our ability to identify, assess and engage potential mass shooters before they strike.” The Attorney General further described the coming initiative, slated to be implemented early next year, as “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.” More specific information about the program is set to follow the recent memorandum, according to Barr, though it is unclear if that forthcoming document will be made public.
Barr also requested that those who received the memorandum send their “best and brightest” to a training conference at FBI headquarters this coming December where the DOJ, FBI and “private sector partners” will prepare for the full implementation of the new policy and will also be able to provide “new ideas” for inclusion in the program.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the memorandum is Barr’s frank admission that many of the “early engagement” tactics that the new program would utilize were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats.” In other words, the foundation for many of the policies utilized following the post-9/11 “war on terror” are also the foundation for the “early engagement” tactics that Barr seeks to use to identify potential criminals as part of this new policy. Though those “war on terror” policies have largely targeted individuals abroad, Barr’s memorandum makes it clear that some of those same controversial tactics will soon be used domestically.
Barr’s memorandum also alludes to current practices by the FBI and DOJ that will shape the new plan. Though more specifics of the new policy will be provided in the forthcoming notice, Barr notes that “newly developed tactics” used by the Joint Terrorist Task Forces “include the use of clinical psychologists, threat assessment professionals, intervention teams and community groups” to detect risk and suggests that the new “early engagement program” will work along similar lines. Barr also alludes to this “community” approach in a separate instance, when he writes that “when the public ‘says something’ to alert us to a potential threat, we must do something.”
However, the memorandum differentiates suspected terrorists from the individuals this new program is set to pursue. Barr states that, unlike many historical terrorism cases, “many of today’s public safety threats appear abruptly and with sometimes only ambiguous indications of intent” and that many of these individuals “exhibit symptoms of mental illness and/or have substance abuse problems.”
Thus, the goal of the program is ostensibly to circumvent these issues by finding new and likely controversial ways to determine intent. As will be shown later in this report, Barr’s recent actions suggest that the way this will be accomplished is through increased mass surveillance of everyday Americans and the use of algorithms to analyze that bulk data for vaguely defined symptoms of “mental illness.”
Barr also suggested the likely courses of action that would follow the identification of a given individual as a “potential mass shooter.” The Attorney General notes that in past cases individuals deemed a violent or terroristic threat before they commit a crime are subject to “detention, court-ordered mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, electronic monitoring”, among other measures. Ostensibly, the new program would then apply these same practices to individuals in the U.S. that federal authorities believe are “mobilizing towards violence,” as Barr put it.
Bill Barr’s been busy
The memorandum, despite heralding a new era of Orwellian surveillance and “pre-crime” on a national level, has been sparsely covered by the mainstream media. One of the few reports that did cover the new Justice Department policy, published Wednesday by the Huffington Post, framed the new Barr-led initiative as largely positive and asserted that the “anti-terror tactics” to which Barr alluded could “help thwart mass shooters.” No mention was made in the piece of the threat such a program is likely to pose to civil liberties.
Furthermore, no mention was made of Barr’s clear push over the past few months to lay the groundwork for this recently announced program. Indeed, since becoming Attorney General under President Trump, Barr has spearheaded numerous efforts to this end, including pushing for a government backdoor into consumer apps or devices that utilize encryption and for a dramatic increase of long-standing yet controversial warrantless electronic surveillance programs.
On July 23rd, Barr gave the keynote address at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) and mainly focused on the need for consumer electronic products and applications that use encryption to offer a “backdoor” for the government, specifically law enforcement, in order to obtain access to encrypted communications as a matter of public safety.
Barr went onto say that “warrant-proof encryption is also seriously impairing our ability to monitor and combat domestic and foreign terrorists.” Barr stated that “smaller terrorist groups and ‘lone wolf’ actors” — such as those involved in the series of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that occurred in the weeks after his speech — “have turned increasingly to encryption.” Barr later noted that he was specifically referencing encryption used by “consumer products and services such as messaging, smartphones, email, and voice and data applications.”
To overcome the resistance by some private companies — who do not want to renege on their right to privacy by giving the government backdoor access to their devices — and American consumers, Barr tellingly anticipated “a major incident may occur at any time that will galvanize public opinion on these issues.” Shortly after this speech, several mass shootings, including one at an El Paso Walmart took place, which again brought the issue to the forefront of political discourse.