TAMPA — “Jihadist crisis line, how can I help you today,” says Mike Smith, a Navy SEAL with Joint Special Operations Command who volunteers with Central Command’s Jihadist Crisis Line.
“I’m feeling like my life isn’t really worth anything, like I should just go into a crowded marketplace and blow myself up,” says a despondent Al Qaeda operative calling from Yemen.
"Oh now, you don't want to do that. You have so much to live for," Smith tells him with a soothing voice. "Just give me your location and we'll get our people over there to help. We can work this out together."
It's just one of many calls received to the Jihadist Crisis Line, a toll-free 1-800 number set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to help respond to terrorists facing myriad problems. With funding from the Department of Defense, the JCL has successfully eliminated thoughts of suicide from at least 350 jihadists in a variety of countries.
For Smith, who is trained in crisis response, suicide awareness, and targeting operations, the next steps he takes on the call can mean the the difference between a terrible suicide or a successful JDAM strike.
"We work diligently to mitigate threats [of suicide] from our callers," said Smith. "And the staff here is highly-trained to pinpoint jihadists in crisis and get them immediate HE [highly effective] resources."
Resources can take a variety of forms: Smith sometimes refers callers for further psychological treatment, or helps them work through their personal issues. Other times, he uses their call metadata to pinpoint their GPS coordinates and passes that off to forward-deployed JSOC personnel.
"In my work, I feel confident when I pass off the exact location of a jihadist caller, I know my JSOC guys are going to bring that guy back down off the edge and get him to the safety of Guantanamo," Smith said.