Counter-extremism researcher Lydia Wilson’s piece Gone to Waste: the ‘CVE’ Industry After 9/11 provides an interesting insider view into the worldwide ‘CVE industry’, and its self-perpetuating drive for profit.

In the piece, Wilson traces how the cycle of funding and profiteering has silenced meaningful discussion about the efficacy of programmes rolled out under the CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) banner, while also jettisoning questions of foreign and domestic policy from the discussion entirely.

CAGE has documented the rise of a counter-terrorism (CT) industry in the UK over the past two decades, and how policies like Prevent has come to be supplemented by bodies like the RICU (Research, Information and Communications Unit) propaganda unit, the quasi-governmental Commission for Countering Extremism and arms-length research networks like the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.

What these bodies have achieved it to lauder, legitimise and amplify the logic of ‘counter-terrorism’/’counter-extremism’, even while CT has, on its own terms, been a resolute failure – as evidenced by the number of success attacks over recent years. 

As Rob Faure Walker noted in a recent article for CAGE, the CVE industry ‘not only undermines democracy and makes us less safe, but [is] organised in such a way that it also hides the harm that it causes…[This] is the cumulative effect of civil servants from the Home Office spending the last decade naively gathering skewed evidence to support a failed policy area.’ 

The British CVE industry

This internally-referencing network of organisations and research clusters has entrenched CVE policies and practitioners within the British political landscape and encased them in a state of permanent groupthink – whereby the only solution to increasingly glaring failures with CVE, is further CVE – with the only difference being whether to opt for only openly repressive powers, or more ‘equitable’ approaches that target the far-right alongside Muslims.

It has also created a climate whereby any public critiques are met with relentless hostility by paid CVE practitioners. And understandably so: the level of funding poured into CVE and the wider CT apparatus is a powerful buffer against critical thinking from CVE practitioners. 

Britain’s 2020 budget for counter-terror policing alone was £909million, while the 2018 Counter-Terrorism Strategy committed to £1.4billion of investment in the security and intelligence agencies alongside £500million to ‘protect UK citizens from terrorist threats’.
Meanwhile, between 2014-2019, £200million was spent on the ‘counter-terror’ surveillance programme Prevent with a further £63million set aside for the Building a Stronger Britain Together ‘counter-extremism’ programme over 4 years.

Each of these pots provide openings and opportunities for enterprising CVE advocates, whether through research projects, public-private partnerships or funded social projects.

Politics in the driving seat

But the crux of Wilson’s argument can be found towards the end of her piece, where she hones in on the political convenience that CVE policies offer governments. There, she states that ‘Governments around the world do not want many of the drivers known and broadcast because that would require changing their own policy and behavior…Political realities shrink the space CVE practitioners can work in, meaning we can never really address the roots of the problem.’

The desire for funding and profit motives have given CVE policies a continual lease of life – but in the final instance, politics remain in the driving seat. CVE persists in large part because governments like Britain’s refuse to come to terms with their own deep complicity in political violence and social polarisation – through cuts at home and wars abroad – and instead displace the blame onto fringe ‘extremists’.

Any solution to the issues of both political violence and the out-of-control CVE industry must address the question of funding priorities as well social priorities. The CVE industry should be starved of its wasteful financing model – underwritten by governments like Britain – and the government should instead address the issues of alienation, disenfranchisement and social fragmentation on their own terms, rather than through the lens of countering extremism.

Breaking the cycle

Wilson joins a number of CVE ‘insiders’ that have grown more vocal in their critiques of their industry – which has included former Prevent recipients. While we welcome their interventions, we also do not believe that the scrapping of the CVE industry should be left to the insiders.

As CAGE have long been saying: the solution to political violence should be rooted in social transformation and the cessation of state violence, rather than simply being led by policing or the CVE profit motive.

Our 2020 report Beyond Prevent provides a roadmap towards building a post-Prevent society rooted in a broader framework spanning the need to address the root grievances;
Counter disenfranchisement and alienation that hinders communities from organising for their betterment; and Dismantling the repressive policy architecture established by Prevent and counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile as our Managing Director stated last yearWe need to defund counter-terrorism, do away with current counter-terrorism legislation and redirect funds into public sector services that foster healthy individuals and societies, rather than being recruited to do the work of countering terrorism’.

As we mark 20 years since the War on Terror began, the West’s failed war in Afghanistan should provoke a wider rethink and introspection – both on the part of government, and on the many cottage industries spawned in the wake of the war.


CAGE’s International Witness Campaign has been initiated alongside over 50 partnering organisations worldwide to explore two decades of the war on Terror, its impact, its failures and its future, while promoting solidarity, justice and dialogue – the very antithesis of the CVE industry.

Image used courtesy of Flickr/Images Money 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)