WH Counterterror Chief: Parents Need to Watch for ‘Sudden Personality Changes in Their Children’

April 17, 2014 - 4:08 PM

Lisa Monaco

White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (White House photo/Pete Souza)

(CNSNews.com) - In a speech delivered at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on Tuesday evening, White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco said it could help prevent terrorism if parents watched for “sudden personality changes in their children at home.”

“President Obama has been laser-focused on making sure we use all the elements of our national power to protect Americans, including developing the first government-wide strategy to prevent violent extremism in the United States,” said Monaco, in a transcription posted by the White House.

“At the same time, we recognize that there are limits to what the federal government can do,” said Monaco. “So we must rely on the partnership of those who are most familiar with the local risks, those who are in the best position to take action—local communities.

“Local communities are the most powerful asset we have in the struggle against violence and violent extremism,” she said.  “We’ve crunched the data on this. In the more than 80 percent of cases involving homegrown violent extremists, people in the community—whether peers or family members or authority figures or even strangers—had observed warning signs a person was becoming radicalized to violence. But more than half of those community members downplayed or dismissed their observations without intervening.

“So it’s not that the clues weren’t there, it’s that they weren’t understood well enough to be seen as the indicators of a serious problem,” said Monaco.

“What kinds of behaviors are we talking about?” she said. “For the most part, they’re not related directly to plotting attacks. They’re more subtle. For instance, parents might see sudden personality changes in their children at home—becoming confrontational. Religious leaders might notice unexpected clashes over ideological differences. Teachers might hear a student expressing an interest in traveling to a conflict zone overseas. Or friends might notice a new interest in watching or sharing violent material.

“The government is rarely in a position to observe these early signals, so we need to do more to help communities understand the warning signs, and then work together to intervene before an incident can occur, while always respecting our core commitment to protecting privacy and civil liberties,” said Monaco. “During the past several years, that’s what we’ve attempted to do."