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UK approach to militant Islamists holds lessons for US

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“Our ‘spooks’ are now coordinating and intelligence-sharing effectively,” says Anthony Glees, an intelligence and security expert at England’s University of Buckingham. “The US model is different; there are many more security agencies and a lot of conflict and competition between them. The first thing the US must do now is change its intelligence culture.”

Britain has worked to recruit moderate imams to visit jails, where Muslims – including converts – often hold sway. Professor Glees says this targets both the “useful idiots” who are often recruited to carry out attacks, and the more thoughtful would-be attackers, in the Hasan mold, who may come into contact with militant preachers like Awlaki.

The Home Office has a two-pronged counterterrorism strategy. “Contest” is aimed at rooting out violent extremists and reshaping relations between the state and British Muslims, who had not experienced significant state intrusion in their religious and community affairs. It combines beefed-up intelligence powers with “Prevent,” a hearts-and-minds approach to mosques and Muslim community groups that eschew violence.

By 2011, the government estimates it will have spent £3.5 billion ($5.8 billion) on the policy.

Results have so far been encouraging, at least where hard power is concerned.

The number of police in counterterrorism has risen from 1,700 in 2003 to 3,000; MI5, the domestic security and counterintelligence agency, has doubled. Almost 200 people have been convicted of terror offenses in the past eight years, including home-grown cells planning to blow up transatlantic jets, nightclubs, and shopping centers.

At the same time, the legal climate has shifted, with the use of “control orders” to limit unconvicted suspects’ rights and allow longer detention without charge.

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