Exporting Preemption: The Transnational Diffusion of Counter-radicalisation Policing Strategies

Derek M.D. Silva 
King’s University College at Western University
Mathieu Deflem
Google Scholar | ResearchGate | ORCID

This is the manuscript of a chapter in The Development of Transnational Policing: Past, Present and Future, eds J.L.M. McDaniel, K.E. Stonard, and D.J. Cox. Routledge, 2020.
Also available as PDF file.

Please cite as: Silva, Derek M.D., and Mathieu Deflem. 2020. “Exporting Preemption: The Transnational Diffusion of Counter-radicalisation Policing Strategies.”  Pp. 179-200 in The Development of Transnational Policing: Past, Present and Future, edited by John L.M. McDaniel, Karlie E. Stonard, and David J. Cox. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.


Since 9/11, a growing body of research has examined the national and transnational dimensions of the policing of terrorism. Yet, questions on how counter-terrorism policing efforts proliferate transnationally remain in need of empirical examination. This chapter highlights the extent to which policies on counter-terrorism policing are adopted across national borders. Specifically, we compare and contrast counter-radicalization policing in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Such preemptive efforts, we show, has occurred through different means transnationally as the governments of various nations and their respective security institutions have adapted in similar ways to the perceived changing conditions of the terrorist threat.

Keywords: counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, policing, preemption, public policy.

“I want to reassure the American people that the full resources of the federal government are working to assist local authorities to save lives and to help the victims of these attacks. Make no mistake – The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”
– Former US President George W. Bush, September 11th, 2001.


In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, much of the Western world adopted a fundamentally reactive approach to the threat of international terrorism. The United States launched what has become known in common parlance as the global ‘war on terror,’ in which other Western countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Canada, have also actively participated in since 2001. Indeed, when George Bush stood on the south lawn of the White House to announce his “crusade” against international terrorism, he did so on the explicit logic of ‘seek and destroy’ by means of predominantly military intervention (Deflem and Chicoine, 2013). The result was an ongoing mission of combatting terrorism through practices of leadership interdiction, terror cell identification and destruction, financial tracking and interruption, and the abolishment of state-sponsored terrorist networks. In the following months and years, the US and allied forces began campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq – known as Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, respectively – seeking to dismantle the terrorist organization networks responsible for the September 11th attacks. The military campaigns that make up the ‘war on terror’ were reacting to terrorist events, but since the mid-2000s, newly perceived threats have emerged that have significantly reconfigured counter-terrorism policies in the Western world around a host of preemptive interventions (Jackson, 2005).

Following the US invasion in Iraq in 2003, there was a notable increase in ideologically related terrorist attacks against Western powers in Europe that led many states to reconsider the seek and destroy models that had until that time been adopted (Kundnani, 2012). These predominantly military strategies involved eliminating the enemy by means of searching hostile territory, incapacitating them, and withdrawing afterward. Despite the perceived success of military campaigns in the Middle East – at least from the perspective of governments – large-scale terrorist attacks still threatened Western liberal democracies, particularly in Europe. Governmental leaders quickly began to embrace the idea that reactive military intervention, even when it includes a ‘hearts and minds’ approach, may not be the most effective means through which terrorism can be prevented. These approaches often fail for two main reasons: the first, is that strategies tend to be less about winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of foreign countries and often about blind obedience; the second failure is that such approaches assume that you can change one’s mind through military intervention. Policymakers thus started to advocate and develop new strategies for proactively countering the terrorist threat based principally on a preemptive logic aimed at countering terrorist activity before its manifestation and without primarily focusing on international military operations. These new strategies were developed around emergent pathway and micro-trajectory models that focus on the process of how individuals and groups transition from so-called conventional ideologies to extreme political violence at both the domestic and international levels (Kundnani, 2012; McCauley and Moskalenko, 2008; Neumann, 2013; Sedgwick, 2010; Silva, 2018).

Despite the notable increase in governmental and academic interest in radicalization (Kundnani, 2012; Silva, 2018), relatively few studies have focused on how discourses of preemptive intervention have spread within and across national boundaries. This lack of attention begs the question of how contemporary forms of counter-terrorism policing related to radicalization have proliferated. To address this issue, this chapter presents an exploratory analysis of the development and transnational diffusion of preemptive intervention programs aimed at countering radicalization. Our objective is to provide a preliminary but empirically rooted sketch of how radicalization preemption is increasingly relied upon by Western governments and how such programs have diffused across national borders.

Policing and Counter-Terrorism

Much of the scholarly attention paid to police and terrorism has come from scholars and professionals interested in practical concerns of police operational efficiency and terrorist identification and interdiction (Akbar, 2013; Deflem, 2008; Kundnani, 2012). This body of work, albeit useful and important, focuses heavily on identifying ‘best practices’ for local, federal, and international law enforcement officials. While such investigations have been, and continue to be, influential in the fields of police studies, international affairs, and public policy, they fail to adequately address important questions related to how modern practices of policing international terrorism come to be and, perhaps equally important, how the adoption of policing strategies might be patterned and structured in variably novel and imperfect ways.

Sociologists and criminologists have thus begun to focus on the patterned and cooperative nature of international counter-terrorism policing networks and tactics. Indeed, since the early 2000s, a notable increase can be observed in academic interest in counter-terrorism policing practices across national boundaries (e.g., Deflem, 2006, 2010, 2015; Grabosky, 2008; Greene, 2011; Turk, 2013). Shifting focus away from formal law enforcement as the sole agents of policing, scholars have developed an area of research that pays close attention to how strategies, practices, and networks of policing emerge in both the spatial and temporal dimensions. This body of work brings to light the international interconnectivity of modern counter-terrorism policing while tracing out some of the historical antecedents of networks of police cooperation (Deflem, 2002; Deflem and Hauptman, 2013; Murray, 2005).

An emergent trend in the policing of international terrorism is based in operational and strategic cooperation networks. However, as we move into the second decade since the events of 9/11, the policing of terrorism and other counter-terrorism approaches instituted by governments are changing in terms of organizational and public priorities at both the local and international levels. Such developments take place at different levels of public agencies, including politics, military, law, and police, both within and across national states (Deflem, 2008, 2010). These various levels and dimensions of counter-terrorism factually co-exist even though they may operate relatively independent on their own respective logic and rationalization. Most clearly, for instance, the military focus of the war on terror is accompanied by the criminal justice orientation of police agencies. Both practices have developed and co-exist even when their respective forms and objectives can conflict sharply. With this qualification in mind, new terrorist threats and developments have led to an overarching shift towards the rearticulation of counter-terrorism practices around preemptive intervention in the so-called radicalization process (Silva, 2018). It is therefore important to analyze contemporary forms of counter-terrorism policy that are continuously shifting and developing around new social and political objectives, to articulate the level of government at which they are formulated, and how they inform the practices of policing to which they pertain.

Radicalization, Preemptive Intervention, and Pre-Crime Policy Transfer

Following a series of notable terrorist attacks in Europe in the wake of 9/11, such as the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005, the focus of governmental attention related to terrorism in Europe shifted from a focus on foreign terrorist groups and individuals to so-called ‘radicalized’ homegrown or domestic terrorism. The concept of radicalization as a fundamental aspect in the etiology of terrorism was thereby thrust into public discourse by governments and public agencies searching for explanations for why a citizen might commit acts of terrorism against their own country. Policymakers began to employ the concept in political debates and official documents to justify the development of new strategies to counter the perceived threat of homegrown, domestic terrorism (Kundnani 2012; Silva 2017, 2018). Meanwhile, specialists in counter-terrorism were likewise developing new theorizations of the so-called radicalization process, offering hypotheses of ‘pyramid’ and micro-level funnel trajectories from conventional political and ideological civic participation to extremist views and ultimately violence (McCauley and Moskalenko, 2008; Silber and Bhatt, 2007). These new pathway models of radicalization towards terrorist activity provided governments and policymakers with evidence to legitimize the development of national counter-radicalization policies that aimed to intervene in what some criminologists have defined as a space of pre-criminality or of a heightened ‘risk’ of crime that exists before the manifestation of any criminal activity (McCulloch and Pickering, 2009; Zedner, 2007). It was in this context that preemptive intervention in relation to terrorism became a matter of formal public policies.

Amongst the most influential research motivating early adoption of this body of government policy in the US was the New York Police Department (NYPD) report Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat (Silber and Bhatt, 2007), which developed a model of ‘jihadization’ whereby individuals and groups transitioned toward political violence by means of an identifiable process of individual indoctrination. In the United Kingdom, government officials relied heavily on the influential pathway model proposed by Bartlett, Birdwell and King (2010), which remains widely referenced in the country’s official counter-radicalization strategy (Silva 2018). Monaghan has argued that Canada is a “norm-taker” in terms of radicalization preemption policy transfer from abroad because the government wants to acquire best practices of counter-radicalization in the penal setting from abroad (Monaghan, 2015, p. 394). As a “norm taker” in this context, Canada is said to be a net importer of the “best-practices” from elsewhere. And while this conclusion might be slightly premature due to the emergence of counterfactual evidence in Canada (see Silva, 2018), Monaghan does highlight how counter-radicalization practices have spread a ‘net of security’ across international borders. The key question raised that is of particular interest here is how public policies in the context of counter-radicalization are exported and imported by various Western governments for use in their own public policy.

Studies positing an identifiable process or transition towards political violence have indeed been highly influential on counter-terrorism policies developed over the last fifteen years (see Kundnani, 2012; Sedgwick 2010; Silva, 2018). Since mid-2010s, however, a growing body of research has emerged that aims to make sense of the complexities associated with political radicalization (Corner and Gill, 2018; McCauley and Moskalenko, 2017). This research often problematizes many of the studies that informed the earliest incarnations of counter-radicalization policies and policing strategies on the grounds that it lacks empirical and methodological rigour. It is therefore essential to understand the transnational proliferation and development of counter-radicalization policing initiatives founded on the basis of a relatively novel, and evidently problematic, approach to pre-criminality and preemption.

It is to be noted, finally, that despite a budding field of research into the efficacy of, and challenges faced by, counter-radicalization and terrorism disengagement programs (Horgan and Braddock, 2010; Horgan and Taylor, 2011; Shuurman and Bakker, 2016) – such as their creation of a ‘pre-criminal space’ that criminalizes individuals before the carrying out of any crime (see Heath-Kelly, 2017; McCulloch and Pickering, 2009)– studies typically focus on single case-studies or within-country comparisons and thus fail to account for the international diffusion of counter-radicalization policing. Even with the notable upsurge in academic concern with matters of international counter-terrorism policing, on the one hand, and counter-radicalization, on the other, analyses of the diffusion of counter-radicalization policing initiatives at the global level have yet to attract sufficient scholarly interest. In light of the scholarly critique of the primitive radicalization models informing early governmental policy that largely remain in place today, it is therefore important to reflect on the ways in which those policies have proliferated within and across Western liberal democracies.

The Proliferation of Counter-Radicalization Strategies

The concept of radicalization as an element informing public policy can be traced to a series of published reports and policies developed in The Netherlands between 2002 and 2004 (AIVD, 2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2005). Countries across Europe were dealing with the issue of new domestic forms of political violence involving citizens of European countries (i.e., the 2004 murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh). Government officials in The Netherlands and elsewhere began to formulate public policies aimed at pre-empting this ‘new’ form of violence (Kundnani, 2012). Based on specialist analyses positing a generalizable and identifiable theological process through which individuals move prior to engaging in religious violence, authorities came to understand the solution to radicalization in terms of preemptive intervention, mostly on religious grounds (Kundnani 2012). Rather than attempting to uncover the broader social and political antecedents to terrorism, governments focused overwhelmingly on interrupting theologically-based political violence through monitoring, profiling, and preempting in the lives of mostly religious communities despite relatively low risk (Kundnani, 2012; Silva, 2017, 2018). It can generally indeed be observed that, following the introduction of counter-radicalization policies in the early 2000s, a number of public policies for countering radicalization explicitly based on a preemptive approach have been established in much of Europe and North America.

There has also been a notable uptake in the adoption of official public policies that explicitly focus on counter-radicalization and preemptive intervention. This increase is a relatively recent trend, as 43 out of 50 (86%) counter-radicalization initiatives have been implemented since 2010, of which 26 (60.5%) have been implemented since 2015. These strategies, most often implemented in a layered and multi-sectoral structure, attempt to provide the resources and guidance necessary for those engaged in counter-radicalization practices to meet their operational requirements. They provide local law enforcement with a set of strategies for community engagement, cooperation with public and private stakeholders, and often offer roadmaps and guidelines for international cooperation with other countries, which has become a clear mandate of both the European Union’s Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment (Council of the European Union, 2014) and the United Nations’ Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (United Nations, 2015).

The observed transnational proliferation of counter-radicalization policing efforts is indicative of a general willingness among Western governments and their institutions to make preemption a fundamental aspect of their counter-terrorism strategies. Despite this, some countries have interestingly yet to develop robust counter-radicalization strategies. Perhaps most notable in this respect is Ireland, which has experienced a long history of domestic terrorism in relation to the Irish Republican Army (and various factions of it) since the early twentieth century. While a complete survey and analysis of counter-radicalization projects throughout Europe and North America is beyond the scope of this chapter, there are empirical indicators that indicated the emergence of preemption as a guiding framework for the establishment of counter-terrorism at the transnational level. Without prescribing the development of counter-radicalization interventions at the national level, then, it is important to reflect on the countries that have yet to develop national strategies. Future research would do well to focus on these developments. Preempting terrorism by intervening in a process of radicalization had not widely entered governmental discourse prior to 2003 (Silva, 2018), but several countries across the Western world have since then adopted preemption as an essential characteristic of their respective counter-terrorism measures. In the following analysis, we will focus on these developments as they have occurred in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

The Diffusion of Preemptive Policing: Case Studies from the UK, Canada, and the US

The United Kingdom

Perhaps the most notable contemporary preemptive policing strategy is the United Kingdom’s Prevent Strategy, which is often held as a global standard for domestic counter-radicalization policy (Rascoff, 2012). Established in 2006, Prevent is part of the Britain’s 2003 Counter-terrorism Strategy known as ‘CONTEST’ and offers an overarching national strategy for intervening in the pre-crime space associated with political violence. The strategy mobilizes a host of civic and private stakeholders, from health professionals to religious leaders to social workers, to both directly and indirectly take responsibility for matters of counter-radicalization in their communities. The policy directive effectively brings together local law enforcement with disparate government agencies, offices, and public and private stakeholders under one umbrella with the goal of preempting in the radicalization process through a variety of social interventions. Specific goals are to officially: (1) challenge the ideology that supports terrorism and those who promote it; (2) protect citizens and other vulnerable people; and (3) support sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalization. To meet these operational goals, Prevent provides numerous strategies, organizational and financial support, and legal guidelines for schools and universities, internet service providers, healthcare practitioners, private sector stakeholders, religious organizations, criminal justice officials, social workers, and law enforcement to assist in the identification of, and intervention in, the radicalization of individuals and groups within their communities.

In 2006, Prevent presented a dramatically different approach to counter-terrorism than had until that time been developed in the UK and elsewhere. Instead of focusing on the international military occupations or on legal frameworks of arrest, detention, and conviction, post-9/11 counter-terrorism strategies in the UK were developed around combatting the risk of potential future terrorism. In this way, the UK was among the first jurisdictions to make preemptive intervention a primary focus of its counter-terrorism policing strategy. The Prevent strategy represents an approach to community engagement based on ‘capacity-building’ which focuses particularly on counter-radicalization projects which intervene on local theologically- and youth-based communities.

The Prevent strategy reflects a move away from traditional policing strategies such as those involving the use of crime mapping, confidential informants, and secretive police infiltrators. Although there is evidence that these techniques remain in use by UK government officials (see O’Toole et al. 2016) they are not primary aspects of the UK’s shift towards preemption. Although some evidence suggests that Prevent does the opposite in reality (O’Toole DeHanas, and Modood, 2012; O’Toole et al., 2016), the Strategy focuses much more on community-building practices; practices which may have traces of ‘traditional’ policing techniques but are not foundational characteristics of United Kingdom counter-radicalization program. For example, police agencies in the UK have long utilized crime mapping as a means of deducing geographical areas ‘at-risk’ of increased crime and deviance; and while the mapping of risky geographic or institutional locations is conducted, it is not a primary tactic used by London law enforcement in the context of counter-radicalization (Lambert 2011).

Despite being recognized as a global leader in counter-radicalization, the UK has been criticized by many for using Prevent to target already marginalized communities (Kundnani, 2012; O’Toole et al., 2016; Lambert, 2011). In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and preceding the Contest Strategy, for instance, the London Metropolitan Police Service’s Anti-Terrorism branch, which had been dealing with issues of terrorism since the 1970s campaigns against the IRA, established a pilot unit to work closely with Muslim communities to identify, intervene, and disrupt ‘jihadi’ extremists from recruiting in Mosques in the Finsbury Park and Brixton areas of London (Lambert, 2011). This so-called ‘Muslim Contact Unit’ exists to open lines of communication and information sharing between local law enforcement and Muslim communities in the city. By the late 2000s, the use of ‘agent provocateurs’ – or police and intelligence agents who infiltrate at-risk groups to provoke criminal activity – was common amongst the Unit (Lambert, 2011). Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter, several scholars have argued that such strategies – from increased targeted surveillance to the use of agent provocateurs in Muslim communities – construct Muslims in Britain as ‘suspect communities’ (Awan, 2012; Nickels et al., 2012; Pantazis and Pemberton, 2009). As an attempt to build State-Muslim community engagement, the MCU in some ways laid the foundations for future law enforcement strategies that eventually came under the guide of Prevent.

Prevent also mandated the establishment of Prevent Engagement Officers (PEOs) within local police forces that work to “develop community connections, understand communities, identify risks and share information with partners to support Prevent objectives” (The Home Office, 2011). This initiative has replaced the locally-implemented structure of the Muslim Contact Unit amongst municipal law enforcement agencies and aligns with the nationally coordinated, centralized, and layered approach to governing terrorism through preemption underpinning Prevent. The emergence of this policing initiative is as such also reflective of a rearticulation of policing around less explicit, albeit notably persistent, notions of vulnerable communities, instead working to responsibilize all citizens as agents of terrorism control. In other words, modern Prevent practices now focus less on targeting already marginalized communities as cooperating actors and much more on constructing an entire citizenry capable of engaging in counter-radicalization. As of July 2015, for example, all schools in the United Kingdom have a legislated duty to cooperate with Prevent to assist in safeguarding institutions from radicalization and extremism. The adoption of Prevent within British schools largely stemmed from UK’s Department for Education published guidance on promoting ‘British values’ in schools to “ensure young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain” (Department for Education, 2014).

Moreover, as of February 2015, all staff working in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) are now required to complete Prevent framework training and align with the objectives of the Prevent strategy. In addition, the country continues to use public service announcement (PSA) campaigns in public areas and private-sector training – such as workplace training in high traffic areas of downtown London – to mobilize its citizens to take active roles in the assessment, identification, and deployment of its counter-radicalization program (O’Toole et al., 2016). The broad responsibilization of counter-terrorism across social institutions in the United Kingdom remains quite innovative today with respect to its national reach and highlights the widening of counter-radicalization practices across the public and private sectors.

As a first-of-its-kind public policy, the CONTEST directive offered a backdrop for the rapid reconfiguration of local interventions aimed at countering the risk of future terrorism, rather than traditional reactive approaches employed by law enforcement (i.e., arrest and detention) both in the UK and abroad. Indeed, many specialists maintain that the United Kingdom has developed the most innovative and robust radicalization preemption policing projects and as such has been approached as an exporter of counter-radicalization techniques (Monaghan, 2015; Rascoff, 2012). While the UK was indeed the first large Western liberal democracy to formalize its counter-radicalization policing across an entire country, there exists evidence to suggest that other Western countries are at once being influenced by, but also attuned to some of the problems with, the approach in the United Kingdom. In Canada, for instance, a distinct brand of innovative counter-radicalization policing practices has been developed that is fundamentally different than that of the UK.


Despite the use of the same name (Prevent) in Canada for its counter-radicalization strategy, the country’s approach to specific policing practices is quite different than that of the UK for several reasons. First, the Canadian law enforcement structure is very different than that of the UK. Canada has a federal police agency tasked with primary responsibility over matters of counter-terrorism, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and most densely populated areas fall under local or municipal police agency jurisdiction. Second, Canada’s population is around 30 million fewer than the UK despite being more than 41 times larger in land mass than the UK. Third, the geopolitical context of each country remains distinct despite their shared Head of State, as Canada remains autonomous and independent in terms of their diplomatic and political place in international relations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Canada’s experience with terrorism – both contemporaneously and historically – is very different than that of the UK. For instance, Canada’s upsurge of ‘domestic’ political violence occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, where numerous high-profile attacks were carried out against government offices and officials in Québec by the separatist group Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). Not only has Canada experienced far fewer terrorist attacks (Silva, 2018), the country has experienced only a handful of notable ‘homegrown’ domestic terror attacks. For these reasons, Canadian authorities have worked to develop a distinct approach to counter-radicalization that, although influenced by the UK experience, is innovative and applies to Canadian legal structures and historical antecedents.

In the years following 9/11, the Canadian government developed an approach to counter-terrorism that shifted from the national space to the global. This move from counter-terrorism as a national issue to an internationally-oriented concern was reflected in both governmental communications about countering terrorism as well as international cooperation on matters of public policy. For instance, in the latter years of the decade, Canadian politicians overwhelmingly began to adopt the notion of a ‘global fight against terrorism,’ whilst establishing international cooperation networks and adopting similar policies to combat terrorism, highlighting the globalized threat of terrorism that had emerged (Deflem 2010; Silva 2018). Immediately following the September 11th attacks, as the clearest example, the omnibus Antiterrorism Act was passed by the Canadian Parliament.

Among the best documented instances of the adoption and implementation of germane counter-terrorism policy is the establishment of a Canadian national counter-radicalization framework. In 2012, following the release of the Air India Flight 182 commission report and at least influenced by a 2006 foiled terrorist plot against a variety of targets in Southwestern Ontario (known as “Toronto 18”), then Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, released the Government’s strategic plan entitled Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada’s Counter-terrorism Strategy. The Strategy, in some ways explicitly similar and in other ways clearly influenced by the UK’s CONTEST framework, outlined the Canadian response to building what was called a “resilient society.” As Toews (2012) explains, “in a resilient society, everyone – including governments, first responders, critical infrastructure operators, communities and individuals – knows what they need to do when faced with a terrorist attack, ensuring a rapid return to ordinary life.”

In an almost identical approach as the UK’s CONTEST approach, the Canadian strategy adopts a fourfold strategy to build resilient communities, including: Detect, Deny, Prevent, and Respond. As one part of the fourfold Strategy, the Government introduced the Prevent framework aimed at preempting the uptake, adoption, and proliferation of ‘terrorist ideologies’ among vulnerable individuals and groups. Like the UK strategy, Canada’s Prevent seeks to work with local, national, and international partners to counter violent extremism and provide alternative narratives to individuals and groups whom may be transitioning towards violent activities. Canada’s strategy also aims to mobilize and engage local community members, government officials, law enforcement, and public and private stakeholders, as part of the counter-radicalization strategy.

A key difference between Canada and the United Kingdom with respect to their respective counter-radicalization policing strategies is that Canadian initiatives have developed mostly at the local and municipal levels, as outlined below, whereas the UK’s experience is much more nationally organized. Despite the establishment of a national counter-radicalization program, most interventions in Canada are local attempts to mobilize communities within the Prevent framework. For example, programs developed at the municipal level in Calgary and Montréal in 2015– known as ReDirect and the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) respectively – represent cases where local law enforcement agencies have partnered with not-for-profits, community organizations, researchers, social workers, and in some cases health care and education professionals, to offer referral services to direct individuals perceived to be vulnerable to radicalization into social interventions (Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, 2018; ReDirect, 2018). While the efficacy of each program has yet to be analyzed in-depth, in 2017 the Canadian government increased support to take ReDirect out of its pilot-project stage, indicating that the program is at least effective from the governmental point of view (The Canadian Press, 2017).

Calgary’s ReDirect program remains a law enforcement-led program focusing on referring individuals who are judged to be at risk of radicalization into appropriate interventions. The explicit goal of the program is to identify, assess, and intervene in the lives of young people who are at thought to be at risk of becoming radicalized under a terrorist ideology. Once an individual is referred to the program, a team of social workers, police officers, and case managers review the case and develop individualized support plans that often include referrals to other community support programs (such as vocational training, social work support, and sports organizations).

Unlike the ReDirect program, the CPRLV offers a complex multi-sectoral and multi-objective structure to their counter-radicalization initiative – mobilizing a research wing to develop analysis and empirical assessments of new developments in the field, a prevention and skills development team that focuses on raising public awareness and training people in vulnerable sectors to identify ‘risky’ behaviors, and an intervention team that provides counseling, psychological assessment and support, and community resources to individuals referred to the Centre. This multi-sectoral approach is amongst the most innovative initiatives surveyed in this chapter because it is not fundamentally premised on channeling vulnerable individuals into social interventions. Rather, it aims to provide preemptive interventions – or support for those projects – as part of system of community building and education, rather than a more traditional approach to countering the threat of terrorism.

The United States

Unlike both Canada and the UK, the United States does not currently have an overarching governmental strategy aimed specifically at countering radicalization. Vidino (2010) has argued that these historically timid approaches to counter-radicalization are the result varying combinations of the follow features: a delay in the emergence of a domestic terror threat, the persistent belief that ‘hard’ counterterrorism tactics (such as military intervention, surveillance, leadership interdiction, etc.) are the most efficient means, massive and bureaucratic government structures, as well as the combination of the First Amendment and little public pressure to develop counter-radicalization. The US governmental approach to counter-radicalization has to date been mobilized mostly at the local and state level under the guidance of a federal mandate known as Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States that was published by the White House in August of 2011 (Department of Homeland Security, 2011). This policy mandate urges local- and state-level stakeholders to work together to counter terrorist activity in their communities but falls short of providing a unified national legal strategy. However, there remains a strong presence of preemption among local and state counter-terrorism strategies.

Two key intelligence projects provided much of the impetus for the reorientation of local policing terrorism around notions of preemption in the mid-2000s – the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad (FBI Counterterrorism Division, 2006) and the 2007 NYPD report Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat (Silber and Bhatt, 2007). These administrative research projects advocated for and informed the development of an intelligence gathering-led approach to policing that would seek out patterns of so-called radicalization that might lead to violent terrorism. The FBI report identified a fourfold generalized typology of ‘stages of radicalization’ that could form the basis of policing initiatives in a variety of contexts. These stages included “pre-radicalization,” “identification,” “indoctrination” and “action” and therefore offered a generalizable process through which Muslims transition towards violence (FBI Counterterrorism Division, 2006). Similarly, the NYPD Report identified processes of “pre-radicalization,” “self-identification,” “indoctrination” and “jihadization” (Silber and Bhatt, 2007). These reports helped engrain in political discourse an approach to radicalization as not only a predictable process, but also one that is predominantly associated with Islamic communities.

These two influential reports continue to inform local and municipal counter-radicalization initiatives across the United States. For example, in New York, the NYPD’s counter-terrorism operations are layered with four distinct but interconnected operational objectives: (1) support the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF); (2) provide real time surveillance in lower Manhattan through the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI); (3) prepare for terrorist attack through training with the Counter-terrorism Division; and (4) identify and disrupt terrorist attacks before they occur through the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, which has established network of officers, informants, and surveillance mechanisms within the city. The LMSI focuses primarily on security issues and safeguarding communities through the installation of security practices of surveillance, investigation, disruption, detention and arrest, while the Intelligence Division’s mandate focuses on intelligence collection and dissemination to other Divisions within the Department.

Since the mid-2000s, however, the NYPD has increasingly focused on community relations and engagement through a unit known as the Community Affairs Bureau (CAB). While not explicitly focusing on counter-radicalization, the Bureau is the NYPD’s unit aimed primarily at preventing crime through community engagement. As such, the CAB’s mandate includes the prevention of all forms of crime, including terrorism (New York Police Department, 2018). Within the CAB, the NYPD has established several programs, not least of which include the New Immigrant Outreach Unit (NIOU) and the Clergy Liaison Program (CLP) (New York Police Department, 2018). These present the forms of community-oriented policing which aim to foster communication, tolerance, and understanding amongst police and their communities that have been developed elsewhere. In fact, the CAB hosts periodic meetings with clergy, community organizations, and law enforcement, and even organized local sports leagues for vulnerable youth, with the explicit goal of fostering information and promoting stronger relationships in mind. Similarly, to the MCU in the UK, however, programs such as the NIOU and CLP are weakened by their strict association with law enforcement projects and well documented histories of racial and ethnic targeting (Bonino 2012; Kundnani 2012).

While these NYPD programs are not explicitly mandated to counter radicalization, they continue to be the primary conduit through which community partnerships aimed at countering terrorist activity are built in the city. In fact, a series of exposés were published in 2011 and 2012 by New York Times journalists Matt Apuzzo and Joseph Goldstein documenting the creation and deployment of a specialized unit within the NYPD known internally as the Demographics Unit (DU) (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2012a). Comprised of a handful of NYPD officers, the DU focused on 28 “ancestries of interest” and detectives were advised to gather information related to how members of Islamic communities perceive America and foreign Policy. According to the reports, the unit in practice operated, as part of the NYPD Intelligence Division, as a surveillance mechanism that singled out Islamic communities and those who appeared to be practicing Muslims (Neuman, 2014; Sledge, 2014; ACLU, 2014). The Unit mapped Muslim communities both inside and outside of the city, tracking where individuals frequent, and sent clandestine officers into those locations to document conversations and gather information (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2012a). The DU also captured photo and video surveillance of individuals leaving and entering places of worship, recorded the license plate numbers of worshippers attending services, and tracked the movement of those individuals (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2012a). In addition, the DU made use of police informants and even reportedly deployed agent provocateurs – known as ‘rakers’ – to act as inside observers in mosques and “bait” conversations about jihad or terrorism (Goldman and Apuzzo, 2012b).

The approach to counter-radicalization in the United States remains based primarily in more traditional forms of reactive and community policing, rather than through formal cooperation with local and community stakeholders. Indeed, federal counter-terrorism efforts in the United States are designed to work together with local authorities to provide a layered approach of information collection, sharing, and intervention to counter potential threats (Deflem, 2010). The US counter-terrorism strategy primarily utilizes traditional measures such as the use of electronic surveillance of suspects and the use of confidential informants to penetrate terrorist networks.

No other country has been more successful in developing an overarching national strategy than the United Kingdom. The approach in the United Kingdom focuses primarily on the proliferation of a precautionary logic that extends throughout the social apparatus and explicitly delegates responsibility for counter-terrorism to the country’s citizenry, particularly evident in major cities such as London and Manchester. The UK’s counter-radicalization policing strategy is also robust in terms of its deployment of more traditional policing practices in cooperation with novel techniques aimed at providing forms of social assistance to those identified as presenting an increased risk of terrorist activities. The London police therefore make use of traditional policing strategies of mapping, surveillance, and informants in conjunction with education and training programs as part of its application of Prevent. In the UK, sectors traditionally absent from counter-terrorism, such as the education and health sectors, have also successfully been mobilized, demonstrating the diffusion of preemptive intervention across the public sphere. There have been recent studies on the effects of Prevent in the health space, with Health-Kelly and Strausz (2018) finding that health professionals continue to operate in a ‘grey area’ between Prevent Duty safeguarding and the UK’s Care Act 2014. In other words, some health professionals continue to view Prevent Duty safeguarding as categorically distinct from their duty to abide by Care Act provisions, and thereby outside of the scope of their duties as health professionals (Heath-Kelly, 2016; Health-Kelly and Strausz, 2018). Indeed, much more research must be completed that focuses directly on the efficacy of such strategies.

In Canada, counter-radicalization policing is developed much more at the local level, and policing techniques are less embedded in the everyday lives of Canadians. Despite the presence of a national counter-radicalization strategy being in place in the country for several years, political, legal, and structural arrangements make it more difficulty for the development of an all-encompassing national policing strategy aimed at preempting radicalization. Unlike the UK, Canada is separated into several Provinces and Territories which each have relative autonomy over its own police agencies at both the provincial and municipal levels. While Canada does have a national police force, the RCMP, that is tasked with leading the national counter-radicalization strategy, each municipal and provincial locality with a police agency has jurisdiction over its own operations. It is therefore much more difficult to develop an all-encompassing counter-radicalization policing initiative across the country, and initiatives have to date been mobilized at only the municipal level. This has resulted in the development of specific cases of counter-radicalization policing in Canada, rather than a national approach such as the one adopted in the UK.

In the United States, counter-radicalization policing is predominantly enacted by local law enforcement agencies and does not appear to follow a coherent national strategy of building community-level partnerships with vested organizations. Unlike Canada, local manifestations of community programs aimed at countering radicalization through preemptive intervention, such as the CAB, have been centralized within law enforcement agencies which at most interact, rather than partner with, community organizations. Finally, in Canada and the United States, there is very little evidence to suggest that the education and health sectors have become influential stakeholders in the counter-terrorism strategy. While this may be changing, particularly in Canada, high schools, universities, and hospitals remain at most secondary partners in countering radicalization; relied upon only to inform and alert police and other key stakeholders about at-risk individuals through referral systems. Employees in those sectors in the UK, by contrast, are legally compelled to receive Prevent training and inform law enforcement of possible threats. As such, counter-terrorism policing practices in the UK are effectively broadened to include institutions not typically associated with policing. These findings confirm that counter-terrorism policing strategies across Western nations share many characteristics on the basis of similar or even shared concerns and, at times, by means of an explicit importation of styles, but always remain embedded within variable national contexts.


This chapter has shown that preemptive strategies of counter-terrorism policing have begun to be developed across Western nations – specifically in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States – that are based on the notion of radicalization as a key factor in the pathway to terrorism. Clearly, the Western world has experienced a relatively swift uptake in national policies and programs that explicitly reference radicalization as its object and preemptive intervention in pre-crime space as the operational solution. This transnational diffusion of counter-radicalization policing represents a relatively new approach to engaging communities as responsible stakeholders in a context previously led decidedly by government agencies and law enforcement. Curtailing the ‘new’ terrorist threat requires the active participation of teachers and professors, nurses and doctors, community and religious leaders, social workers and psychologists, politicians and police officers, and, perhaps most importantly, citizens, to combat threats to the community perceived to exist and originate from within those communities. The spread of preemptive policing in matters of counter-terrorism thus transcends both national as well as community boundaries.

As our findings indicate, while there are similarities between the establishment and implementation of policing strategies aimed at countering terrorism through preemption across nations, there are also notable differences as specific political, structural, and cultural contexts invoke distinct strategies within national jurisdictions. Nonetheless, a clear trend exists towards the adoption of counter-radicalization as a central, if not always fundamental, characteristic of counter-terrorism policing in Western liberal democracies. As such, the diffusion of policing techniques and counter-terrorism strategies is transnational, but not global, at least not yet.

Because of its theoretically grounded empirical focus, this investigation hopes to provide the empirical foundations for the study of the increase in governmental (counter-)radicalization discourses. What ways in particular do governments share information and practices vis-à-vis counter-radicalization? What formal and informal networks have been established to identify, disseminate, and develop new, efficient practices for combatting an ever-evolving terrorist threat? How do innovative governmental interventions developed in one country influence those in another? What are some of the implications of a global shift in policing terrorism through practices of preemptive intervention? The relevance of these mechanisms for the development and diffusion of preemptive counter-terrorism cannot be underestimated and will have to be investigated in future research.  


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