Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jihadists and Personnel Surety

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times, both print (pg A20, New York Edition) and on-line versions, about an American suspected of being associated with Al Qaeda who had worked at a number of nuclear power generation facilities along the East Coast. It is based upon information from a Nuclear Regulatory Agency IG Report that is not actually available because of the sensitive nature of its data.

Free Speech Protected

According to the article, the IG report “recommended improving plant employee training on how to detect and report ‘behaviors associated with terrorist intent.’” This seems to be a common sense recommendation, but it is fraught with problems. Trying to distinguish between ‘terrorist intent’ and constitutionally protected free speech has proven difficult for trained and experienced police officers; it will prove to be even more difficult for loosely trained plant personnel.

For example, the article points to a quote from the reported jihadist, Sharif Mobley, found in the IG report as an example of the type comment that should have been reported by fellow workers. Reportedly Mobley said: “We are brothers in the union, but if a holy war comes, look out”. Standing alone this hardly rises to the level of calling for violent overthrow of the United States or even an expression of support for a radical jihadist agenda.

Establishing a formal reporting program where employees are solicited to report inappropriate political behavior of fellow employees is fraught with potential problems. The potential for deliberate abuse of the process for personal retaliation is well documented.

It seems to me that, even without a formal program encouraging people to report on their fellow employees, the average employee in today’s climate would report clearly violent jihadist comments by their fellow employees. What is needed is not a program to encourage such reporting, but a program to train first line supervisors, the likely recipient of such extemporaneous report, on how to deal with the reports. They need to be trained in how to distinguish between protected free speech and advocating violent action.

Report Suspicious Behavior

What should be established is a reporting program where employees are encouraged to report suspicious behavior directed against the facility. There needs to be no mention of political motivation of the behavior; what needs to be reported is the behavior itself. In fact, with the wide variety of potential terror threats (radical jihadist, violent eco-terrorists, skin heads, and the extreme militia movements) mentioning just jihadists, for example, could be counter productive.

NOTE: Added at 10:25 pm EDT – A redacted copy of the NRC IG report is available on the web site.

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