Gonzales Says Online Radicalization Must Be Contained

August 16, 2006. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania titled "Stopping Terrorists Before They Strike: The Justice Department’s Power of Prevention".

He said that "our strategy of prevention is built on four primary pillars of activity", one of which is "containment of the radicalization that leads to homegrown, al Qaeda-inspired terrorists."

He elaborated that this radicalization is taking place on the internet. However, he stopped short of identifying specific new policies or governmental powers that would enable the Department of Justice (DOJ) to contain this online radicalization.

Although, he did reference amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) via legislation offered by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). Also, he said that it is "essential that we continue to develop the tools we need to investigate their actions".

He did not reference mandatory data retention in the prepared text of his speech. Nor did he discuss censorship of online communications, or take down of web sites.

Alberto GonzalesGonzales (at right) said that "With advances in technology, such as the Internet, change is natural, of course, among successive generations. But the most dramatic change is the nature of the enemy our country today faces -- a stateless enemy sometimes hidden and nurtured here in our neighborhoods, taking advantage of the very laws they mock with their killing and destruction, as a shield from detection and prosecution."

He continued that "We've taken away the 'home base' for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We've destroyed training camps, cut off funding channels, and disrupted means of communication. We have captured or killed many of al Qaeda's key leaders. This has weakened and fractured al Qaeda." But, he added, that this "has also driven al Qaeda to the Internet, where their ideology has inspired and radicalized others.

He said that "There are between 5,000 and 6,000 extremist websites on the Internet, each one encouraging extremists to cultivate relationships with like-minded people."

"These are the home-grown terrorists that you have heard about", said Gonzales. "This radicalization is happening online and can therefore develop anywhere, in virtually any neighborhood, and in any country."

He also said that "The threat of homegrown terrorist cells -- radicalized online, in prisons and in other groups of socially isolated souls -- may be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda, if not more so. They certainly present new challenges to detection."

Gonzales also said that "It is therefore essential that we continue to develop the tools we need to investigate their actions and intentions with the help of our partners, and prosecute those who travel down the road of radicalization."

He made several recommendations for Congressional action. First, he wants the Senate to confirm Ken Wainstein and Alice Fisher to be the Assistant Attorneys General in charge of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) National Security Division and Criminal Division, respectively.

Second, he wants the Congress to enact legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). He said that "Senator Specter's legislation addressing that issue, as well as the terrorist surveillance program, should be passed."

See, S 3001, the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Improvement and Enhancement Act of 2006". See also, S 2453, the "National Security Surveillance Act of 2006".

Third, he said that "I am also optimistic that Congress will act soon to establish a solid statutory basis for the military commission process, so that trials of captured al Qaeda terrorists can move forward again and we can bring them to justice. We have been in ongoing conversations with Congress in recent weeks to establish such a system, and we are optimistic that we’ll soon have legislation that protects the security of the United States while also affording detainees a full and fair process."