A bill that passed the U.S. House last week would create a vital tool to help the United States track dozens of convicted terrorists whose prison terms are nearing completion.
The Terrorist Release Announcements to Counter Extremist Recidivism Act (TRACER) would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to inform state and local authorities about anticipated release dates and the locations where the terrorists would live post-release.
It's an idea the Investigative Project on Terrorism has advocated for more than a year.
Since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, hundreds of people have been arrested and convicted of terror related offenses.
Most were motivated by a radical Islamic ideology which calls for the destruction of the United States and Western democracies. The Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department have struggled to develop a viable de-radicalization or post release program.
The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., acknowledges that failure and offers a way to fill in the gap.
"TRACER would actually do the same thing [as a sex offender registry] and be providing notification that someone has been released," said According to House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
McCaul also wants a viable program "to ensure that radicalization is not taking place because it is."
I testified about prison radicalization in 2011 before the House Homeland Security Committee. Recognition that Islamic radicalization occurs in prison, I said, was a necessary first step.
I also encouraged committee members initiate a comprehensive program that included information sharing among federal, state, and local authorities. It is necessary component for public safety, and this bill will do just that.
The bill passed on a voice vote which may indicate strong bipartisan support. But it has not been without its naysayers. Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University's Center on National Security, demonstrated her naïveté when she said, "I do not distinguish them [terrorists] as any more dangerous than other people who might have been apprehended before they committed a crime or people who were convicted of committing a crime."
It is absurd to think that an individual who indiscriminately mows down innocent pedestrians on a New York City walkway or who travels overseas to join a terrorist organization and fight against U.S. coalition forces is no more a threat to society than a third rate burglar or confidence artist.
Thankfully, House members did not agree. A companion bill in the Senate is awaiting action in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The very real threat of recidivism by a released terrorist or a prison-radicalized parolee must be dealt with effectively and the Tracer Act is a step in the right direction.