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Adopt ‘Al Capone Anti-Terrorism Policing Model,’ Expert Tells Congress

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A counterterrorism expert told the Senate Homeland Security committee that Europe should adopt the “Al Capone anti-terrorism policing model” to fight Islamic extremism and prevent future attacks.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said investigating and monitoring potential terrorists has “overwhelmed the system” in Europe. He encouraged European nations to implement a much more “disruptive” policing model and learn from the U.S. government’s experience with the mob.

“Al Capone, who is the U.S.’s first celebrity criminal, was ultimately arrested, indicted and convicted not for being a mobster, not for being a killer, not for being a bootlegger, but rather for not paying taxes on his illegal income,” he said during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing titled “Terror in Europe: Safeguarding U.S. Citizens at Home and Abroad.”

“Ultimately finding lesser offenses is important and within European jihadist networks, which are identifiable and under surveillance, there’s often financial fraud and other small crimes where they can pick people up. This isn’t ultimately a perfect solution, but in the short term we’ve had these two major attacks and more would-be attackers who are at large right now. I think it’s very important to disrupt and thin down the networks,” he added.

In his written testimony, Gartenstein-Ross gave a specific example of where the application of the “Al Capone” model could have made a difference in past terror plots.

“The ringleader of the bombers who struck London in July 2005, Mohammed Sidique Khan, had been caught on tape discussing his plans to obtain terrorist training in Pakistan. Authorities seemingly had a way to disrupt his activities at the time by charging him with fraud,” he said. “Had they done so, 52 innocent lives may have been saved. Adopting the Al Capone anti-terrorism policing model maybe a way to tilt the balance in authorities’ favor.”

Clinton Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, warned that the U.S. and Europe are on the “defense” against the current level of ISIS recruitment.

“We are reacting rather than pre-empting and that’s a position we never want to be in,” he said at the hearing. “We have terrorists operating without borders and we have counterterrorists operating with all borders. ISIS has done in Europe what al-Qaeda never did. In one year they have achieved a level of violence al-Qaeda couldn’t do in 10.”

Watts, a former U.S. Army infantry officer and FBI special agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force, explained that ISIS does not “micromanage” its recruits unlike al-Qaeda, which has overwhelmed authorities.

“They move faster and communicate more freely than our counterterrorists do in Europe,” he said. “They’re way over capacity. They can’t follow all the leads for every ISIS member that may be returning to Europe.”

Watts recommended the U.S. advocate for the European Union to create a new “aggressive” counterterrorism task force to combat the threat.

“We have to go on the offense in Europe the way we did here after 9/11,” he said.

Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Watts for an example of an offensive measure the U.S. should take against terrorism.

“A constant offense is the only way to keep them on the defense. I would say that foreign fighter task force tracking is the most essential thing we should be doing and we should have done,” Watts responded.