Posted on February 7, 2021

Former CIA Officer: Treat Domestic Extremism as an Insurgency

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR, February 2, 2021

When it comes to domestic extremists such as those who stormed the Capitol, a longtime CIA officer argues that the U.S. should treat them as an insurgency.

That means using counterinsurgency tactics — similar in some ways to those used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Robert Grenier served as the CIA’s station chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001. He went on to become the CIA’s Iraq mission manager and then director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center from 2004 to 2006.

“We may be witnessing the dawn of a sustained wave of violent insurgency within our own country, perpetrated by our own countrymen,” Grenier wrote in The New York Times last week. And without national action, he argues, “extremists who seek a social apocalypse … are capable of producing endemic political violence of a sort not seen in this country since Reconstruction.”

In an interview with All Things Considered, Grenier discusses what that national action would mean.


What do you do about it?

I think the most important element of the struggle, if you will, is information. We’re not talking about an alien population here. There are friends of mine who believe that the election was stolen. There are members of my family who have very strong doubts. And I think there are a great many people who don’t trust you, Mary Louise, I hate to be the one to break it to you, who don’t trust NPR or The New York Times.

But again, I think this is the work of a nation. I mean, it’s trite to say that we need a national conversation, but in fact, that’s what we need.


Is there anything that you think could be done with a sense of urgency?

Part of it is simply setting the proper national tone.

But another, I think, very important element that we haven’t talked about yet is what I would refer to as insurgent leadership. The fact of the matter is that the most violent elements that we are concerned about right now see former President Trump as a broadly popular and charismatic symbol. He is their charismatic leader, whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not. You know, just as I saw in the Middle East that the air went out of violent demonstrations when [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein was defeated and seen to be defeated, I think the same situation applies here. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Trump has lost. It’s very important that people see that he has lost, is a private citizen. But I think it’s extremely important that his potency as a symbol for the most violent among us is somehow addressed.