The man in charge of America’s drone wars will face Senate questioning about perhaps their most controversial aspect: when the president can target American citizens for death.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter on Monday to John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism adviser and nominee to be head of the CIA, asking for an outline of the legal and practical rules that underpin the U.S. government’s targeted killing of American citizens suspected of working with al-Qaida. The Obama administration has repeatedly resisted disclosing any such information about its so-called “disposition matrix” targeting terrorists, especially where it concerns possible American targets. Brennan reportedly oversees that matrix from his White House perch, and would be responsible for its execution at CIA director.
“How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?” Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, asks in the letter, acquired by Danger Room. “Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?”
Wyden’s questions about the targeted-killing effort get specific. He wants to know how the administration determines when it is “not feasible” to capture American citizens suspected of terrorism; if the administration considers its authority to order such killings inherent in its Constitutional war powers or embedded in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force; and if the intelligence agencies can “carry out lethal operations inside the United States.” Wyden also expresses “surprise and dismay” that the intelligence agencies haven’t provided him with a complete list of countries in which they’ve killed people in the war on terrorism, which he says “reflects poorly on the Obama administration’s commitment to cooperation with congressional oversight.”
Thus far, senators on the intelligence panel have been more concerned about Brennan’s possible role in national-security information leaks and the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program than in using Brennan’s nomination to peer into the decision-making surrounding Obama’s counterterrorism strikes. Wyden writes that it is “critically important” for Congress to understand “how the executive branch understands the limits and boundaries of this authority.”
In September 2011, a U.S. missile strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, al-Qaida’s most prominent English-language propagandist and an American citizen. Weeks later, another strike fired by a U.S. drone killed Awlaki’s 16-year old son, Abdulrahman.
The Obama administration has never disclosed the evidence behind its claims that the elder Awlaki posed such an imminent danger to Americans that prompted killing him without due process of law, prompting a major debate about the legality of the killing. (Administration officials have said even less about the justification for killing the 16-year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.) Members of the Awlaki family, the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union have variously sued the government for additional information about the strikes, all unsuccessfully. Earlier this month, a federal judge in New York ruled that the government was not required to disclose the legal analysis undergirding the Awlaki targeting decisions, even as the judge herself blasted the administration for embracing “certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”
Wyden doesn’t specifically ask for information about the killing of Awlaki and his son. He’s after the more general rules embraced by the administration about when killing a U.S. citizen is permissible in the U.S. shadow wars. Those rules, apparently written in 2010 by Justice Department lawyers David Barron and Marty Lederman, were described in a New York Times piece but remain secret. Wyden doesn’t ask for their disclosure, just for the administration to permit members of the intelligence panel to read them.
“For the executive branch to claim that intelligence agencies have the authority to knowingly kill American citizens but refuse to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that explain the executive branch’s understanding of this authority represents an alarming and indefensible assertion of executive prerogative,” Wyden writes.
As the Senate intelligence panel’s leading civil libertarian, Wyden frequently calls on the administration to explain the classified reasoning behind its most controversial national security practices. He’s accused the administration of adopting a private interpretation of the Patriot Act so expansive, for instance, that it amounts to “secret law” authorizing surveillance. Most often the administration stiffs Wyden. The National Security Agency has yet to disclose how many Americans are caught up in its dragnet for terrorist communications, one of Wyden’s major preoccupations, telling the Senator that even disclosing that number would violate Americans’ privacy.
Brennan remains likely to receive Senate approval for his CIA nomination. But until now, senators on the panel that will handle his confirmation had seemed less than interested in exploring the more discomforting aspects of the counterterrorism strategy colloquially referred to as the “drone war.”
Wyden doesn’t endorse or reject Brennan for the top CIA job. Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza tells Danger Room that ”the senator is looking forward to a frank and substantive conversation on these issues and of course the results will be considered in his decision making.”
Yes, we needed economists to tell us this. A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds “strong evidence for a revenge effect” when examining the relationship between civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan and radicalization after such incidents occur. The paper even estimates of how many insurgent attacks to expect after each civilian death. Those findings, however intuitive, might resolve an internal military debate about the counter-productivity of civilian casualties — and possibly fuel calls for withdrawal.
“When ISAF units kill civilians,” the research team finds, referring to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, “this increases the number of willing combatants, leading to an increase in insurgent attacks.” According to their model, every innocent civilian killed by ISAF predicts an “additional 0.03 attacks per 1,000 population in the next 6-week period.” In a district of 83,000 people, then, the average of two civilian casualties killed in ISAF-initiated military action leads to six additional insurgent attacks in the following six weeks.
The team doesn’t examine the effect of CIA drone strikes in neighboring Pakistan, the subject of fierce debate concerning both the level of civilian deaths the strikes generate and their radicalizing effect.
A team of four economists — Stanford’s Luke N. Condra and Joseph H. Felter, the London School of Economics’ Radha K. Iyengar, and Princeton’s Jacob N. Shapiro — used the International Security Assistance Force’s own civilian-casualty data to reach their conclusions, breaking it down by district to examine further violence in the area in which civilians died. They examined the effect of over 4000 civilian deaths from January 2009 to March 2010 by looking at the sometimes-lagging indications of reprisal attacks in the same areas. To be clear, the team’s research is inferential, creating a statistical model to examine spikes in violence following civilian-casualty incidents, rather than interviewing insurgents as to their specific motivations.
But in their study, the researchers found that there’s a greater spike in violence after ISAF-caused civilian deaths than after insurgent-caused ones. “An incident which results in 10 civilian casualties will generate about 1 additional IED attack in the following 2 months,” the researchers write. “The effect for insurgents is much weaker and not jointly significant.”
In other words, even if the insurgents possess a “total disregard for human life and the Afghan people,” as an ISAF press release reacting to this weekend’s insurgent bombings in Herat put it, Afghans effectively would rather be killed by other Afghans than foreigners.
That’s not all. The researchers found that ISAF-caused civilian casualties corollate with long-term radicalization in Afghanistan. Plotting reprisal incidents of violence in areas where civilians died at coalition hands, the data showed that “that the Coalition effect is enduring, peaking 16 weeks after the event. This confirms the intuition that civilian casualties by ISAF forces predict greater violence through a long-run effect.” That’s consistent with intuitions that civilian casualties “are affecting future violence through increased recruitment into insurgent groups,” although they find no direct evidence for such a thing. Interestingly, the researchers found the opposite to be the case in Iraq: U.S.-caused civilian casualties are more likely to cause short-term retaliatory spikes than they are violence over the long term. (Yet.)
Repeated efforts to get in touch with the four researchers by email and phone were unsuccessful by publication time.
The relationship between civilian casualties and the creation of new enemies is no mere academic debate. As the paper notes, there can be “strategic military returns” for U.S. troops who incur greater risk to themselves in order to prevent civilian casualties if that stops Afghans from taking up arms against the U.S. in revenge. Some troops in Afghanistan bridled against General Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, considering them too restrictive against a violent insurgency. General David Petraeus’ letter to his troops on Sunday indicates that he’s trying to strike a balance between protecting the Afghan people and allowing troops to finish the battles they fight.
Additionally, some in the military consider a preoccupation with civilian casualties to be a media-driven phenomenon. Last December, the Air Force’s intel chief, Lieutenant General David Deptula, told Danger Room’s Noah Shachtman that “there appears to be an almost complete lack of indication to support the conventional wisdom, popularized in the media, that air attacks have been provoking deep hostility toward the U.S. and the Kabul government.” Deptula was talking specifically about the air war, and the researchers found that only about six percent of civilian casualties caused by ISAF come through air strikes. (Of course, that’s after McChrystal and his predecessor, General David McKiernan, scaled back ISAF’s use of air strikes.) But after the study, Deptula might want to reconsider his contention that “there is little reason based on the admittedly limited data available in open source to expect that drastically reducing the civilian casualty issue would produce game changing results on the political battlefield.”
The most recent United Nations quarterly study of political and security affairs in Afghanistan found that civilian casualties caused by the U.S. and its allies dropped from 33 percent to 30 percent of total civilian casualties, a dip the U.N. attributed to measures resulting from “a reiteration of the July 2009 tactical directive by the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force limiting the use of force.” But the researchers suggest that Afghans aren’t going say, “Those Americans are OK! They only cause one out of three dead innocent Afghans!” — especially if, as the U.N. also found, civilian casualties in the escalated war are on the rise overall.
After all, if the goal is just to stop U.S.-caused civilian casualties, then the policy implications are clear: stop the war. If it’s to erode the influence of al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan while reducing civilian casualties to the “absolute minimum” Petraeus describes in his letter, then getting the balance between fighting insurgents and protecting civilians wrong risks making the Afghanistan war counterproductive for its stated purpose.
And while some recent academic research suggests that across the border in Pakistan, the CIA’s drone strikes may not kill as many civilians as commonly believed — a very difficult thing to verify in any case — it’s not as if the U.S. has much margin for error. At his sentencing last month, Faisal Shahzad testified that his failed attempt to detonate an SUV filled with explosives came as revenge for what he considered an avaricious U.S. foreign policy. “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people, and on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attacks,” said Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, “because only — like living in U.S., the Americans only care about their people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.”
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, conceded the point made by the four researchers this weekend. He wouldn’t argue, he said, “that some of our actions have not led to some people being radicalized,” Leiter told an Aspen Institute security forum. “It doesn’t mean you don’t do it. It means you craft a fuller strategy to explain why you’re doing it.” Good luck with that. If the U.S. is killing innocent civilians — however accidentally, and however in pursuit of dangerous fanatics — what story can Washington tell to reassure the relatives of the innocent dead?
Clearly the threat from Right-wing terrorists and other groups has been severely undercut by the overblown emphasis on so-called “Islamic terrorism,” a term that should be disputed in the first place!
This is a point we have been making for quite some time now, and this is buttressed by Spencer Ackerman’s recent article about the DHS crushing an analyst who warned about “Far-Right Terror.” (h/t: Avram)
Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls.
It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups — particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis — as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.
But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper — an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.
“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson tells Danger Room. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.” But even if that balance was reset, he concedes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the feds could have found Page before Sunday’s rampage.
A Neo-Nazi rally in Washington D.C., August 2002. Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr
Johnson left DHS in April 2010 after “they dissolved my team,” he says. Had he still been at DHS, he says he would have published an analysis calling attention to a growing number of attacks on mosques, which he thinks could serve as a “warning” to Sikh communities that are often mistaken for Muslim ones. But finding so-called “lone wolf” terrorists like Page is a challenge no matter their motivations, since they operate outside established extremist cells and often don’t have criminal records, making it difficult for law enforcement or homeland security officials to spot them.
Now a security consultant in the Washington D.C. area, Johnson used to work for DHS’ analysis shop, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). He supervised a team of six analysts studying what he calls “domestic non-Islamic extremism.” It’s a telling term: the DHS employed as many as 40 analysts who looked at al-Qaida and other jihadist groups’ inroads into the homeland.
Johnson ran everything else. One person on his team worked on the threat from anarchists; another, the threat from animal-rights extremists. Still others looked at anti-abortion radicalism, white supremacy and radical environmentalism. They were supplemented by analysts at the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; but outnumbered by the literally thousands of analysts, operatives and other counterterrorism officials throughout the government who focus on jihadism. “Salaries were our major budget item,” he recalls.
Then, in April 2009, Johnson warned that the election of the first African-American president, combined with recession-era economic anxieties, could fuel a rise in far-right violence. “DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities,” he wrote.
It surprised Johnson. An Eagle Scout leader from northern Virginia in his early 40s, Johnson became interested in counterterrorism in his teens, after an Arkansas standoff between federal authorities and a millenarian group called The Covenant The Sword And The Arm of The Lord, which stockpiled weapons and explosives to bring about Armageddon. “I was always fascinated with why people use religion to justify violence and believe the world was ending — and had a role to play in hastening that end,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, his former team now consists of a single analyst tasked with tracking all domestic non-Islamic extremism. His database has been shuttered.
A Tea Party activist expresses his displeasure with Johnson’s 2009 report on the danger of far-right extremism.Photo: RBerteig/Flickr
Asked for comment, DHS disputed Johnson’s claim that it gives non-Islamic extremism short shrift.
“The Department of Homeland Security protects our country from all threats, whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence,” spokesman Matt Chandler told Danger Room. “we face a threat environment where violent extremism is neither constrained by international borders, nor limited to any single ideology. This is not a phenomenon restricted solely to any one particular community and our efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE) are applicable to all ideologically motivated violence. DHS continues to work with its state, local, tribal, territorial and private partners to prevent and protect against potential threats to the United States by focusing on preventing violence that is motivated by extreme ideological beliefs.”
Johnson, who has written a forthcoming book about far-right extremist groups, concedes that the definition of “right-wing” in his product was imprecise. In retrospect, he says he should have clarified that his focus was on “violent” right-wing organizations, like white supremacists, neo-Nazis and so-called Sovereign Citizens who believe the U.S. government is an illegitimate, tyrannical enterprise. Much like mainstream Muslims denounce terrorism and object to over-broad analysis portraying Islam as an incubator of extremism, so too do mainstream conservatives denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists and dispute that those groups are authentically right-wing.
LW: I want to add that while I understand the intent of this last sentence it still is a very strange and objectionable juxtaposition. Why not say that that Conservatives “denounce terrorism” and “object to over-broad analysis” much like mainstream adherents to all religions reject the portrayal of their faiths as “incubators of terrorism.”
Nor does he think DHS should ignore Islamic extremism. “It just needs to be more balanced,” Johnson says. New York congressman “Peter King has held three hearings in the past year on Muslim extremism,” he says, referring to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, “but he’s yet to have a single hearing on right-wing extremism when there’s been a lot more activity.”
LW: Rep. Peter King has actually had 6 hearings on so-called “homegrown terrorism” threat from American Muslims.
In a press conference on Monday, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Teresa Carlson acknowledged that Page, the perpetrator of the Sikh temple assault, “had contact with law enforcement in the past,” but that contact didn’t rise to the level of sparking an active investigation. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks right-wing extremist groups, has apparently had Page on its radar for some time.
But Johnson doesn’t contend that more resources would necessarily have stopped Page from attacking the Sikh temple. Lone-wolf terrorists are hard to spot. What the government should do instead is broaden its counterterrorism focus beyond just jihadis. “It needs to be more balanced,” Johnson says. “It’s frustrating to see these types of incidents ongoing.”
A slide from Army Lt. Col. Matthew A. Dooley’s training materials
It’s one thing when loony bloggers and their fans suggest we “NUKE MECCA,” and quite another when similar suggestions are featured in training materials once used by the US military. (h/t: Just Stopping By)
The U.S. military taught its future leaders that a “total war” against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from Islamic[sic] terrorists, according to documents obtained by Danger Room. Among the options considered for that conflict: using the lessons of “Hiroshima” to wipe out whole cities at once, targeting the “civilian population wherever necessary.”
The course, first reported by Danger Room last month and held at the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College, has since been canceled by the Pentagon brass. It’s only now, however, that the details of the class have come to light. Danger Room received hundreds of pages of course material and reference documents from a source familiar with the contents of the class.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently ordered the entire U.S. military to scour its training material to make sure it doesn’t contain similarly hateful material, a process that is still ongoing. But the officer who delivered the lectures, Army Lt. Col. Matthew A. Dooley, still maintains his position at the Norfolk, Virginia college, pending an investigation. The commanders, lieutenant colonels, captains and colonels who sat in Dooley’s classroom, listening to the inflammatory material week after week, have now moved into higher-level assignments throughout the U.S. military.
“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation (.pdf), which concluded with a suggested manifesto to America’s enemies. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”
Dooley could not be reached for comment. Joint Forces Staff College spokesman Steven Williams declined to discuss Dooley’s presentation or his status at the school. But when asked if Dooley was responsible for the course material, he responded, “I don’t know if I would classify him [Dooley] as responsible. That would be the commandant” of the school, Maj. Gen. Joseph Ward.
That makes the two-star general culpable for rather shocking material. In the same presentation, Dooley lays out a possible four-phase war plan to carry out a forced transformation of the Islam religion. Phase three includes possible outcomes like “Islam reduced to a cult status” and “Saudi Arabia threatened with starvation.” (It’s an especially ironic suggestion, in light of today’s news that Saudi intelligence broke up the most recent al-Qaida bombing plot.)
International laws protecting civilians in wartime are “no longer relevant,” Dooley continues. And that opens the possibility of applying “the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki” to Islam’s holiest cities, and bringing about “Mecca and Medina['s] destruction.”
Dooley’s ideological allies have repeatedly stated that “mainstream” Muslims are dangerous, because they’re “violent” by nature. Yet only a few of al-Qaida’s most twisted fanatics were ever caught musing about wiping out entire cities.
“Some of these actions offered for consideration here will not be seen as ‘political correct’ in the eyes of many,” Dooley adds. “Ultimately, we can do very little in the West to decide this matter, short of waging total war.”
Dooley, who has worked at the Joint Forces Staff College since August 2010, began his eight-week class with a straightforward, two-part history of Islam. It was delivered by David Fatua, a former West Point history professor. “Unfortunately, if we left it at that, you wouldn’t have the proper balance of points of view, nor would you have an accurate view of how Islam defines itself,” Dooley told his students. Over the next few weeks, he invited in a trio of guest lecturers famous for their incendiary views of Islam.
Stephen Coughlin claimed in his 2007 master’s thesis that then-president George W. Bush’s declaration of friendship with the vast majority of the world’s Muslims had “a chilling effect on those tasked to define the enemy’s doctrine.” (.pdf) Coughlin was subsequently let go from his consulting position to the military’s Joint Staff, but he continued to lecture at the Naval War College and at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. In his talk to Dooley’s class (.pdf), Coughlin suggested that al-Qaida helped drive the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi. It was part of a scheme by Islamists to conquer the world, he added. And Coughlin mocked those who didn’t see this plot as clearly as he did, accusing them of “complexification.”
Coughlin titled his talk: “Imposing Islamic Law – or – These Aren’t the Droids Your Looking For!”
Former FBI employee John Guandolo told the conspiratorial World Net Daily website last year that Obama was only the latest president to fall under the influence of Islamic extremists. “The level of penetration in the last three administrations is deep,” Guandolo alleged. In his reference material for the Joint Forces Staff College class, Guandolo not only spoke of today’s Muslims as enemies of the West. He even justified the Crusades, writing that they “were initiated after hundreds of years of Muslim incursion into Western lands.”
Guandolo’s paper, titled “Usual Responses from the Enemy When Presented With the Truth” (.pdf), was one of hundreds of presentations, documents, videos and web links electronically distributed to the Joint Forces Staff College students. Included in that trove: a paper alleging that “it is a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians” (.pdf). So was a video lecture from Serge Trifkovic, a former professor who appeared as a defense witness in several trials of Bosnian Serb leaders convicted of war crimes, including the genocide of Muslims. A web link, titled “Watch Before This Is Pulled,” supposedly shows President Obama — the commander-in-chief of the senior officers attending the course — admitting that he’s a Muslim.
Dooley added the caveats that his views are “not the Official Policy of the United States Government” and are intended “to generate dynamic discussion and thought.” But he taught his fellow military officers that Obama’s alleged admission could well make the commander in chief some sort of traitor. “By conservative estimates,” 10 percent of the world’s Muslims, “a staggering 140 million people … hate everything you stand for and will never coexist with you, unless you submit” to Islam. He added, “Your oath as a professional soldier forces you to pick a side here.” It is unclear if Dooley’s “total war” on Muslims also applied to his “Muslim” commander in chief.
After the Pentagon brass learned of Dooley’s presentation, the country’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, issued an order to every military chief and senior commander to get rid of any similar anti-Islam instructional material. Dempsey issued the order because the White House had already instructed the entire security apparatus of the federal government — military and civilian — to revamp its counterterrorism training after learning of FBI material that demonized Islam.
By then, Dooley had already presented his apocalyptic vision for a global religious war. Flynn has ordered a senior officer, Army Maj. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, to investigate how precisely Dooley managed to get away with that extended presentation in an official Defense Department-sanctioned course. The results of that review are due May 24.
Ironically, Dooley and his guest lecturers paint a dire picture of the forward march of Islamic extremism right as its foremost practitioner feared its implosion. Documents recently declassified by the U.S. government revealed Osama bin Laden fretting about al-Qaida’s brutal methods and damaged brand alienating the vast majority of Muslims from choosing to wage holy war. Little could he have known that U.S. military officers were thinking of ways to ignite one.
An internal FBI investigation into its counterterrorism training has purged hundreds of bureau documents of instructional material about Muslims, some of which characterized them as prone to violence or terrorism.
The bureau disclosed initial findings from its months-long review during a meeting at FBI headquarters on Wednesday with several Arab and Muslim advocacy groups, attended by Director Robert Mueller. So far, the inquiry has uncovered and purged over 700 pages of documentation from approximately 300 presentations given to agents since 9/11 — some of which were similar to briefings published by Danger Room last year describing “mainstream” Muslims as “violent.” And more disclosures may be forthcoming, as the FBI continues its inquiry and responds to Freedom of Information Act requests for the documents themselves.
FBI spokesman Christopher Allen confirms to Danger Room that the bureau found some of the documents to be objectionable because they were inaccurate or over-broad, others because they were offensive. Allen explains that the documents represent “less than 1 percent” of over 160,000 documents reviewed by the inquiry, which was prompted by a Danger Room investigation in September. The FBI purged documents according to four criteria: “factual errors”; “poor taste”; employment of “stereotypes” about Arabs or Muslims; or presenting information that “lacked precision.”
Salam al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, attended the FBI meeting. He came away worried that the volume of anti-Muslim training documents hands al-Qaida an unnecessary win.
“People will report criminal activity to the authorities, that’s been proven time and again,” Marayati tells Danger Room. “But if we are giving propaganda to al-Qaida, resuscitating this dying ideology that al-Qaida is promoting, by continually exposing anti-Muslim propaganda published by the government, that undermines our pluralism, which is the best defense against any transnational ideological threat.”
Others think that the FBI can’t stop at purging internal documents. “It’s a bit hard to avoid the conclusion there isn’t a problem of culture in the [FBI] training division,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, whose subordinates also attended the meeting. “It’s one that appears to have some built-in biases when it comes to the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities.” Allen declined to respond.
But the FBI isn’t finished. The bureau plans to publish a “touchstone document” in the coming weeks that explains its criteria to ensure new anti-Islam documents won’t enter counterterrorism training in the future. Similarly, the Justice Department plans on March 21 to release “Cultural Competency” guidelines for dealing with Arab and Muslim communities on counterterrorism, according to Xochitl Hinojosa, a department spokeswoman.
Several civil-rights advocates said they appreciated Mueller’s personal attention. The Wednesday meeting had been scheduled by the FBI’s public-affairs arm, whose deputy assistant director, Jeff Mazanec, briefed the groups for about 40 minutes before Mueller unexpectedly joined.
“Director Mueller acknowledged the seriousness of our concerns and expressed a commitment to maintaining contact with the inter-religious community,” says Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, another attendee at the meeting. Mueller “seemed to understand the hurt and pain as well as the fear, engendered by the offensive, inappropriate and insensitive materials.”
But the worst may not have passed. Allen acknowledged that the internal review, assisted by the Army’s counterterrorism specialists at West Point, hasn’t yet concluded. Several additional organizations have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the specific offending documents; attendees came away with the impression that their disclosure will be ugly.
The White House ordered a government-wide review of counterterrorism training late last year. A Pentagon document responding to the order cited Danger Room’s series as an impetus for the effort.
Berry says she could “see the seriousness with which [the FBI] has approached this.” But she calls the problem a “systemic” one, with urgent implications for U.S. domestic counterterrorism — a concern voiced by Attorney General Eric Holder as well.
“They’ve never owned this problem. It’s not a problem of outside contractors,” she tells Danger Room. “They’re producing these kind of documents that inhibit our counterterrorism efforts. We need our communities engaged, and these have done nothing but alienate us.”
The White House quietly ordered a widespread review of government counterterrorism training materials last month, following Danger Room’s reports that officials at the FBI, military and Justice Department taught their colleaguesthat “mainstream” Muslims embrace violence and compared the Islamic religion to the Death Star.
According to a Pentagon memorandum acquired by Danger Room, the White House’s National Security Staff in October requested “Departments and Agencies” to “provide their screening process for CVE trainers and speakers.” (.pdf) CVE refers to “Countering Violent Extremism,” the euphemism du jour for the war on terrorism. The memorandum says that “recent media attention” led to the review, and contains a single attachment to demonstrate that attention: “Spencer Ackerman’s Wired.com article.”
The ongoing review will examine whether counterterrorism training material throughout the government is accurate and relevant, and will make sure the briefings given to federal field offices and local cops meet the same standards as FBI headquarters or the Pentagon.
Jose Mayorga, a retired two-star general who now serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, oversaw the Pentagon’s contribution to the White House review. In the memo, dated Oct. 16, Mayorga asked aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to collect counterterrorism training materials at the “service academies and major academic centers (e.g., Joint Special Operations University, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and National Defense Intelligence College)” by Oct. 31, a deadline that Pentagon spokesman Robert Ditchey says has “been extended” so the department can be “comprehensive and deliberate.”
The purpose of the review, Mayorga writes, is to “determine the criteria used to establish professional qualifications for teachers and lecturers providing instruction on countering violent Islamic extremism; with particular focus on Military Information Support Operations, Information Operations, and Military Intelligence curriculum.” Mayorga adds that information on “cultural awareness” for troops preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan is also subject to the White House review.
But at least one member of Congress is worried that all of these reviews will undermine counterterrorism efforts in the name of political correctness.
In a forthcoming letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) writes that “political nature of these reviews might inadvertently weaken our law enforcement and military counter-terrorism training programs by censoring certain language that is used to objectively identify the asymmetrical threats that are present in today’s world.”
“We don’t necessarily disagree with some action being taken,” Myrick’s military affairs aide, Clark Fonda, tells Danger Room. “But we’re concerned that this could inadvertently cause a political reaction within [the Justice Department] and [the Defense Department] that could lead to the censoring of words such as ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ in federal law enforcement and military counter-terrorism training documents.”
These messages are complicated, if not contradicted, by the anti-Islam training that counterterrorism agents and officials at the FBI, Justice Department and Defense Department have received. “Boneheaded is a generous way to describe this training,” says counterterrorism analyst Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice. “I’d lean more towards hateful, paranoid and completely counterproductive.”
The FBI wasn’t just wrong in teaching its agents that average Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress Tuesday. That bigoted Bureau training undermined the government’s efforts to stop the next terror attack.
An array of elected and appointed government leaders have denounced the FBI training, since it was first revealed by Danger Room in September. Holder’s comments were the most strident — and highest-level — official condemnation yet. And it reinforces a key point that critics of the Islamophobic briefings have made all along: that tarring “mainstream” Muslims as “radical” and “violent” only helps the real terrorists evade their government pursuers.
That kind of training, Holder insisted, was “inconsistent with what we have been trying to do here at the Department. Those views do not reflect those views of the Justice Department [and] the FBI.”
Without using his name, Holder also rebuked FBI counterterrorism analyst William Gawthrop, who conducted the training at Quantico and in New York. Gawthrop, as Danger Room has extensively reported, likened Islam to the Death Star and said al-Qaida was “irrelevant” compared to the threat of Islam itself. Holder told the panel: “We have distanced ourselves from that person and those statements.”
But Holder went further in his rebuke of the FBI training materials than did Bureau Director Robert Mueller. Last month, Mueller told a House panel that the instructions were “very unusual.” Holder, by contrast, said flatly that he hesitated to distinguish U.S. Muslims from non-Muslims. American Muslims are “American citizens who have the same desires as we have,” he said.
Holder’s argument echoes that of Texas Muslim leader Mohamed Elibiary, who received a September commendation from Mueller himself to recognize his partnership with the FBI on counterterrorism. The anti-Islam training “makes my job — and the FBI field offices’ jobs — much harder,” Elibiary told Danger Room recently.
My favorite Spencer, Spencer Ackerman once again has the scoop. It turns out that “FBI Intelligence analysts weren’t the only ones teaching their colleagues that the U.S. is at war with the Islamic religion,” Justice Department officials and the military were in on the game as well.
They are using the trope pushed by Islamophobes that there is a “civilizational jihad” between Islam and the West. We note Tarek Masoud’s comments at a House hearing regarding this Islamophobic talking point in our article, Sue Myrick’s Muslim Brotherhood Hearing.
A slide from a 2010 PowerPoint prepared by Justice Department intelligence analyst John Marsh
FBI intelligence analysts weren’t the only ones teaching their colleagues that the U.S. is at war with the Islamic religion. Justice Department officials — and even teachers at the Army’s top intellectual center — are delivering similar messages.
Danger Room has acquired a 2010 PowerPoint presentation compiled by an intelligence analyst working for the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Reminiscent of FBI training materials exposed by Danger Room in September, the PowerPoint warns of a “Civilizational Jihad” stretching back from the dawn of Islam and waged today in the U.S. by “civilians, juries, lawyers, media, academia and charities” who threaten “our values.” The goal of that war: “Replacement of American Judeo-Christian and Western liberal social, political and religious foundations by Islam.”
When Danger Room questioned the Justice Department about the briefing, it issued a statement pledging to join the FBI in scrubbing its counterterrorism training for signs of material that equate average Muslims with terrorists.
“To ensure that Justice Department standards are upheld,” the statement reads, “the Department has today instructed all components and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to review all training materials and presentations provided by Justice Department personnel to ensure that any material presented is consistent with the Department’s standards, goals and instructions.”
But the Justice Department is hardly alone in hosting bigoted and counterproductive counterterrorism training. Even if federal prosecutors and FBI agents no longer go through such instruction, Danger Room has learned that anti-Islam training material has spread into the military. Some of the Islamophobic presenters hired by the FBI also lecture at premiere schools for military intelligence; at an online university favored by students seeking jobs in U.S. intelligence agencies and with affiliated contractors; and even at the Army’s intellectual center, Fort Leavenworth.
In other words, what the FBI once told Danger Room was an isolated incident — occurring one time in one lecture session — has spread throughout numerous government agencies over the years.
And in addition to being dubious as a matter of civil rights, experts say that the training places U.S. counterterrorism efforts at risk. “Boneheaded is a generous way to describe this training,” says counterterrorism analyst Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice. “I’d lean more towards hateful, paranoid and completely counterproductive.”
Another slide from a 2010 PowerPoint prepared by Justice Department intelligence analyst John Marsh
The presentation in question is the work of John Marsh, a self-described “intelligence specialist” working for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Titled “21st Century Terrorism: History, Perspective, Development” and dated May 19, 2010, it was apparently delivered to a Defense Department hazardous-materials conference.
Marsh’s presentation, which claims to be “one analyst’s view” and not that of the U.S. government, paints a harsh view of Islam. “Internal Islamic Failures/Collapse,” it advises, “Did NOT Start on 9/11,” but instead date back “~1400 years” — that is, to the birth of Islam itself and the death of the Prophet Muhammad. (Other slides take a meandering tour through world history, and specifically the very pre-Islamic Roman Empire.) “2 Inescapable facts” about contemporary terrorists, Marsh presented, are “1. All Say they are Muslims. 2. All believe they are acting as followers of the true Islam.” Oddly, Marsh doesn’t mention the 2009 shooting spree at the U.S. Holocaust Museum or the 2010 attack on an Austin, Texas IRS office; both strikes were clearly acts of terror, but neither perpetrator was Muslim.
Still, Marsh provides “disclaimers” that Muslims “can separate politics [from] religion.” He acknowledges distinctions between Shiites and Sunnis, and between average “Muslims” and hardcore “Islamists.” Some slides list “positive contributions” from Muslims, particularly in the fields of medicine, art and architecture. “Many Muslims do desire peace,” Marsh allows.
But several of Marsh’s other slides blur those distinctions. They describe Islam as operating along a “broad Muslim belief spectrum,” spanning from average “Muslim” to “Jihadi supporters/terrorists.” (The “Two ‘Faces’ of Islam,” in Marsh’s telling.) The briefing contends, “No Major Muslim group has ever renounced the doctrines of jihad of the sword.” Underscoring his point, a picture of the burning Twin Towers is paired with two minarets. Over them reads a quote: “The West never remembers and the East never forgets.”
Those aren’t the only quotes Marsh uncritically presents. A famous line borrowed from Samuel Huntington’s influential book The Clash of Civilizations — also the title of one of Marsh’s briefing slides — reads, “Islam is CONVINCED of the superiority of its CULTURE; and OBSESSED with the inferiority of its POWER.” Marsh also presents a quote from the son of the founder of Hamas, a convert to Christianity: “What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic or not, he’s doing the will of a fanatic God. It doesn’t matter if he’s a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God.” And bookending his presentation is a quote from Princeton’s Bernard Lewis that seems to anticipate the objections to Marsh’s own briefing: “Self censorship and political correctness will destroy our ability to discuss issues critical to our survival.”
If that sounds reminiscent of William Gawthrop, the FBI intelligence analyst who compared Islam to the Death Star, it may not be an accident. One of Marsh’s slides cites a briefing of Gawthrop’s, titled “The Sources and Patterns of Terrorism in Islamic Law,” which presents straight-line arrows leading from “Islam” to “Hostile Islamic Groups,” “Hostile or Facilitating Islamic Nations” and ultimately an “Insurgency Environment.” The countries Gawthrop lists as afflicted by Islamic insurgencies include Iraq — but also the Netherlands, England, France and even the United States.
“Ironically, this briefing could have been delivered by Osama bin Laden himself,” says Brachman. “The fact that it’s getting airtime is a disaster for our government and the American Muslim community alike.”
Marsh refused to speak to Danger Room about his presentation. Both he and his boss, U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith, referred Danger Room to the Justice Department for comment. The Justice Department promptly disavowed Marsh’s briefing — and pledged to join the FBI in reforming its counterterrorism curriculum.
“The presentation in question does not reflect the views of the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania or the FBI. The presentation represented ‘one analyst’s view,’ as stated in the slides, and the opinions expressed were only those of the presenter,” reads a statement prepared for Danger Room.
Nevertheless, the Department statement continues:
To ensure that Justice Department standards are upheld, the Department has today instructed all components and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to review all training materials and presentations provided by Justice Department personnel to ensure that any material presented is consistent with the Department’s standards, goals and instructions. This is particularly important with regard to training related to terrorism, countering violent extremism and other training that may relate to ongoing community outreach efforts.
Marsh, it turns out, does a fair amount of speaking on the perceived Islamic threat. In March 2011, he spoke to a Harrisburg community college’s homeland security conference on the subject of “Stealth Jihad: A Long-Term Threat to America?” (.pdf) Back in 2008, Marsh was invited to speak at the annual convention of the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department’s R&D agency. The subject of his panel? (.pdf) “Hotbeds of Radicalization in Contemporary American Society.”
But the Justice Department is hardly the only government agency playing host to briefings that take a skeptical view of Islam. At least 10 times since 2007, Stephen Coughlin, a former consultant on Islamic law for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has lectured at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Army’s intellectual nerve center.
“I brief the FBI, brief the Department of Defense,” Coughlin told Danger Room during a short telephone conversation.
Danger Room has confirmed that Coughlin regularly lectures before a class at the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. The course is known as FA30, an “Information Operations” course, which instructs mid-career Army officers how to get the military’s message out.
When Danger Room initially called the course’s supervisor, an Army civilian named John Warner, to ask about Coughlin’s lectures, Warner abruptly ended the conversation, saying, “There’s really not a need for you guys to know this.”
Coughlin would not discuss the content of his briefings: “There’s a degree of confidentiality. If they want to talk, that’s their decision.” Before ending the conversation, he added, “I think you’re doing a hit and run and it’s pretty sleazy.”
Later, Army Col. Mike Dominique, who is in charge of training Army information operations officers at the Combined Arms Center, decided he did want to talk about Coughlin’s briefings. Dominique elaborates that his own “focus is the extremist groups” — the ones that the majors who take the FA30 course have to confront. And that is why Coughlin will continue to be invited to lecture at Leavenworth. “What Mr. Coughlin brings is a certain level of expertise on these extremist groups. He brings a perspective to the audience,” Dominique says.
But Coughlin also discussed Islam itself in the Leavenworth class. “Does he draw parallels between religion and the extremist groups? That can be seen. He uses that as an example,” Dominique says. “His only area of expertise is Islamic law. I can tell you this — and I’d like to really focus on this — my teaching point is not on the Islamic religion. That’s something we are very careful about. Who are the folks we have to deal with? We have IO [Information Operations] officers and American soldiers who are of the Muslim faith. We don’t focus on the religion aspect, but on the extremist aspect.”
A spokesman for the Combined Arms Center, Army Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, acknowledges that “in other venues, [Coughlin] may have created a negative message.” But Leonard says that even when Coughlin discusses Islam at Fort Leavenworth, he does not cross a line into anti-Islam sentiment.
“He helps the students develop a mental model of extremist groups and the process they use to influence moderate Muslims,” Leonard tells Danger Room. “He explains how extremists use the Quran and Sharia law to build a jihadist narrative that creates significant influence within a moderate population.”
In 2007, as Stephen Coughlin began lecturing on Islam at Fort Leavenworth, William Gawthrop began delivering a similar message at the premiere school for U.S. military intelligence. The class was catalogued as NFI 533, “Intelligence and Homeland Security.” It took place at the National Defense Intelligence College, the professional education institution run by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
According to a 2007 email Gawthrop sent to colleagues, obtained by Danger Room, Gawthrop saw his pedagogic activities as part of a self-initiated effort to build a “knowledge bank” of analysts “whose interests include Islamic Law and its impacts on Homeland Security.” The “informal” group would study Islamic Law’s influence on such issues as “immigration, birth rates and demographics,” “aggressive civil suits,” “Sharia Economics,” “Academia, Information Operations, and Parallel Structures.”
A spokeswoman for the DIA, Susan Strednansky, confirms to Danger Room that Gawthrop taught the 2007 course. The previous fall, he also taught a course called “Intelligence and National Security Policy Structure and Process.” Strednansky did not explain why Gawthrop’s lecturing ended.
That was not the only venue Gawthrop had to instruct U.S. intelligence analysts.
Gawthrop remains on the faculty of American Military University, an online higher-learning institution that caters primarily to military veterans and students interested in entering the security field. Gawthrop teaches classes on intelligence.
AMU is an 20-year old university — first a correspondence school, later exclusively online — that offers a variety of bachelor’s and master’s programs to its 97,000 students. About two-thirds of its students are active-duty troops or reservists. And it’s attractive to them because AMU accepts academic course credits that troops can earn in on-base education centers, so they don’t have to start their education from scratch when they finish their service. Most military and intelligence contractors require a college degree for their highest-paying jobs — and accordingly, many of AMU’s alumni are in “public safety or first-responder careers,” says AMU spokesman Brian Muys.
Gawthrop has taught at AMU since August 2007, to a “variety” of courses, each averaging about 14 students per class. “As a matter of university policy, his personal views expressed in any public forums — like those of all our other faculty — do not necessarily represent those of AMU itself,” says Muys. “Similarly, his appearance at public forums outside of our classroom environment does not otherwise imply any AMU endorsement of, or involvement in, such events.”
But American Military University recommended Gawthrop as a lecturer on Islam to the New York chapter of Infragard, a partnership organization between the FBI and the private sector, according to chapter president Joseph Concannon. On June 8, 2011, Gawthrop lectured to the group, instructing that al-Qaida was “irrelevant” compared to the threat of Islam itself. (Muys said he was unable to comment on the matter.)
The FBI explains that several of its employees have second jobs. It refused to comment on Gawthrop specifically. And as it has since the beginning of Danger Room’s expose, the FBI refused to make him available for an interview or explain why it continues to employ him.
The FBI’s parent agency, the Department of Justice, may not be taking any action to fire Gawthrop or Marsh. But in announcing its new vetting for anti-Islamophobic material in its training session, it emphasized that it views American Muslims as partners, rather than targets of the mass suspicion portrayed in the briefings.
“The Justice Department is fundamentally committed to upholding the civil rights of all Americans and is responsible for bringing to justice those who violate civil liberties,” the statement issued to Danger Room reads. “The Department’s commitment to protecting the rights of the Muslim and Arab-American communities has never been stronger, and its outreach to these communities continues daily around the country. Members of the Muslim community are indispensable partners in a shared effort to combat national security threats.”
The FBI and the Justice Department both are now reviewing their counterterrorism training for anti-Islam messages. Will the U.S. military follow suit?
Images: Justice Department intelligence analyst John Marsh’s 2010 briefing on “21st Century Terrorism.” Photo: Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
But untangling the Islamophobic thread woven into the FBI’s counterterrorism training culture won’t be easy. In addition to inflammatory seminars which likened Islam to the Death Star and Mohammed to a “cult leader,” Danger Room has obtained more material showing just how wide the anti-Islam meme has spread throughout the Bureau.
The FBI library at Quantico currently stacks books from authors who claim that “Islam and democracy are totally incompatible.” The Bureau’s private intranet recently featured presentations that claimed to demonstrate the “inherently violent nature of Islam,” according to multiple sources. Earlier this year, the Bureau’s Washington Field Office welcomed a speaker who claimed Islamic law prevents Muslims from being truly loyal Americans. And as recently as last week, the online orientation material for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces included claims that Sunni Islam seeks “domination of the world,” according to a law enforcement source.
“I don’t think anyone with half a brain would paint 1.2 billion people of any ethnic or religious persuasion with a single brushstroke,” Mike Rolince, an FBI counterterrorism veteran who started Boston’s JTTF, tells Danger Room. “Who did they run that curriculum by — either an internal or outside expert — to get some balance?”
The FBI declined to respond directly to such questions from Danger Room. But what’s clear is that the anti-Islam sentiment in the FBI’s training and orientation isn’t the marginal problem that the Bureau portrayed in its previous public statements and press releases. It’s not a historical problem, it’s ongoing. And it will require substantial effort to root out. Not even a July warning from the office of a powerful senator was able to spur the Bureau to purge itself of its anti-Islam material.
One example is found in the mandatory orientation material for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs. Those task forces are a nationwide partnership between the FBI, intelligence analysts and state and local police. As of late last week, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the program, new members or those needing a belated orientation saw this description of Sunnism — the largest branch of Islam — as part of their online training course:
Sunni Muslims have been prolific in spawning numerous and varied fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations. Sunni core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.
That paragraph is contained in orientation material, known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force Orientation v2 course, distributed online through a secure intranet for every member of the JTTFs. That’s approximately 4,400 officials, according to FBI figures, all charged with stopping terrorism. The orientation course is mandatory for every member of the task force.
The passage is especially odd because most of the orientation consists of practical, mundane information, such as the proper forms to fill out during an inquiry or FBI standards for investigations, according to the source. It consists of five sections, one of which is about Islam, Muslims and Arab culture. The supervisor of each JTTF has to certify that all his or her personnel have completed the online orientation course, and then must pass that certification up to FBI Headquarters’ Counterterrorism Division.
The FBI would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the JTTF orientation material.
The excerpt from the JTTF orientation material was provided to Danger Room by a concerned law enforcement official, who says the material contains 20 paragraphs about Islam in a similar vein. Several Bureau and law enforcement officials who spoke to Danger Room on condition of anonymity believe that such instructions are detrimental to uncovering and thwarting terrorist plots, and that the FBI continues to be less than forthright with the press and the public about the extent of its teaching that Islam is at the root of the menace of terrorism. Evidence for this continuing belief can be found in Quantico, Virginia, at the FBI’s elite training academy.
Within the sprawling campus of that academy, Quantico maintains a library befitting the FBI’s status as America’s most important law enforcement agency. It stacks thousands of books, from heavy tomes containing the U.S. criminal code to forensics reference material that could be out of CSI, across three unclassified floors. The library is open to all FBI agents, plus intelligence officials and police from across the country, for a single purpose: to provide background material for cases, guidance material for intelligence analysis and other tools meant directly to aid law enforcement. In other words, it’s not your public library.
There’s a section on religion — in which Islam, perhaps understandably, predominates. A law enforcement source provided Danger Room with a photographic catalog, compiled in late August, of approximately 100 books on Islam out of around 150 stacked at Quantico. Many of them are innocuous or contain unquestioned scholarship, ranging from authors like Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.
But, significantly, the library also contains books by anti-Islam authors that portray the religion as devoted to murder and world domination.
The FBI’s dalliance with Robert Spencer is not limited to the stacks of Quantico. In July 2010, Spencer presented what he described as “two two-hour seminars on the belief-system of Islamic jihadists” to the JTTF in Tidewater, Virginia. He presented a similar lecture to the U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, which is co-hosted by the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office. When a coalition of civil rights groups sent a letter protesting the FBI’s embrace of Spencer, the Special Agent in Charge of the Norfolk FBI, Alex J. Turner, replied, “Seeking broad knowledge on a wide range of topics is essential in understanding today’s terrorist environment, and helps us to defeat ignorance and strengthen relationships with the diverse communities we serve.”
Spencer was only one of an array of self-anointed experts delivering similar messages about Islam to Bureau audiences.
On January 11, the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office held a seminar on Islamic extremism. In the conference room of its Judiciary Square offices, about 60 of the Field Office’s agents and intelligence analysts spent the morning hearing two presentations — one from terrorism expert Sebastian Gorka, a fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and another from a self-identified expert on Islamic law, Stephen Coughlin, a former consultant to the military’s Joint Staff. The takeaway of Coughlin’s presentation, according to an attendee: Islam is out to take over the world and there is no such thing as a loyal American Muslim.
Coughlin was described to Danger Room as presenting a far more extreme take on Islam than Gorka, who spoke separately on the subject of “Core Texts of Salafi Jihad.” But Coughlin allegedly told the agents that Muslims believe Islamic law to be all-encompassing, preventing an either/or choice to U.S. Muslims: either reject the U.S. Constitution or fall into apostasy. Sharia law, Coughlin instructed in the tone of a neutral reporter, was a threat to the agents in the room. He explored an obscure Islamic concept known as “abrogation,” the supposition that some Koranic verses supersede others, to argue that the Koran’s non-violent passages are overtaken in Muslim eyes by commands to wage war against “non-believers.”
It’s a line Coughlin has long pushed. During a presentation at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 — in which he shared a stage with Spencer and Geller — Coughlin asserted that the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the geopolitical organization of Muslim nations, has a “ten-year plan” to make “defamation of Islam a crime” worldwide. One of his briefing slides read, “The SILENCE in the mainstream media on this DIRECT ASSAULT is DEAFENING! — not just on speech — but on thought itself!!” Coughlin’s 2007 master’s thesis at the National Defense Intelligence College claimed that President George W. Bush’s reassurance that the U.S. was not at war with Islam had a “a chilling effect on those tasked to define the enemy’s doctrine by effectively placing a policy bar on the unconstrained analysis of Islamic doctrine as a basis for this threat.” (.pdf) In 2008, his Joint Staff contract wasn’t renewed after a staffer for Gordon England, then the deputy secretary of defense, raised concerns about his work. (Through a spokesman, England declined to comment.)
Coughlin did not respond to requests for comment.
The presentation to the Washington Field Office wasn’t mandated by FBI Headquarters. It was set up on the initiative of a well-intentioned agent. But not everyone was comfortable with the presentation. Some walked out in boredom or disgust, according to the source. Others made fun of it.
But some voiced worries that the presentation sent an implicit message to agents that they should be targeting Muslims in the name of stopping terrorism. And in the past few years, the FBI has accelerated its monitoring of mosques, community centers, businesses and other organizations run by Muslims. Several observers suspect that the persistence of training materials that casts Islam in a threatening light helps explain the increased surveillance. Others — including many counterterrorism professionals within the FBI who say they are disgusted by the bigoted material they’ve received — fear that the presentations will drive a wedge between the Bureau and the U.S. Muslim communities whose assistance it needs to prevent terrorism.
“Inappropriately enlarging the characterization of the threat to include all of Islam,” says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a former official with the National Counterterrorism Center, “may inadvertently increase al Qaida’s ideological resonance and could facilitate recruitment of would-be terrorists.”
Books in a library and presentations in a field office will only reach the agents who visit the library or work in the field office. A Joint Terrorism Task Force orientation will only reach JTTF members. But every FBI agent can access the bureau’s intranet. And until Danger Room’s expose, that network hosted material purporting to demonstrate “the inherently violent nature of Islam.”
Two law enforcement sources with access to the intranet — sections of which are classified — described to Danger Room its page on “Islamic Law.” FBI intranet users type in “Islamic Law” or “Islam” into a Google-like search function. Up pops what’s called a Subject Matter Expert page, or SME, pronounced “Smee.” Usually, an agent seeking a SME will be searching for material directly relevant to an ongoing investigation or a timely intelligence product. But the SME for “Islamic Law” recently featured uploaded documents stretching all the way back to the 19th century, with titles like “The Personal Law of The Mahommedans.”
One such document is a text from 1915, titled “Mohammed Or Christ: An Account Of The Rapid Spread of Islam In All Parts of The Globe, The Methods Employed to Obtain Proselytes, Its Immense Press, Its Strongholds, & Suggested Means to be Adopted to Counteract the Evil.” That explicitly religious and archaic tome instructs that its purpose is “to set forth the appeal of that [Muslim] world for the Gospel. It is a decisive hour!”
Another is a Regent University master’s thesis called “Devoutly Violent or Nominally Peaceful? The Justification for Violence in Islam.” It asks: “[S]eeing as the foremost goal of Islam (which literally means ’submission’) is to subject the entire world to Shari’a law and Allah’s guidance, can a devout Muslim who witnesses to a Christian (who rejects his invitation to Islam) really not become violent? … In conclusion, this thesis demonstrates the inherently violent nature of Islam.”
In the image above, formerly available on the FBI’s “Islamic Law” SME, a thermometer represents a correlation between the Muslim population of a country and its “violence level.” As Muslims accumulate in a given place, they incline toward “grievance fabrication,” then “chronic terror attacks,” and even “state-run ethnic cleansing.” The final stage is “peace” — in an all-Muslim state.
Two law enforcement sources told Danger Room that after our coverage of the FBI’s training materials ran, the “Islamic Law” SME and similar FBI intranet sites were scrubbed of such material. Danger Room was able to acquire some of these documents before they were removed.
Asked to reconcile that statement with the 2006 assessment, FBI spokesman Christopher Allen replied, “The assessment you cite includes a series of indicators of radicalization. These indicators do not conflict with our statement that strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism.”
The FBI is now in damage-control mode. On Thursday afternoon, the FBI held a conference call with Muslim civil rights groups to apologize for its offensive training materials and admit that they were more extensive than it previously acknowledged. The FBI did not make any commitments on which outside experts or organizations it would consult for an updated training curriculum. But according to one participant, the FBI representative on the call said that many people within the Bureau disapproved of the anti-Islamic rhetoric. The FBI’s Allen declined to comment.
“We are glad that this very serious issue has finally received the attention of FBI leadership,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates, “but an internal review is insufficient at this stage. In the last year, the FBI has either defended its use of bigoted trainers or emphatically assured the public that the various trainings were one-time, isolated incidents. Each time those assurances were later revealed to be false.”
Muslim Advocates sent a letter to the Justice Department Inspector General last week seeking an investigation. It has yet to receive a reply. However, the chairs of the Senate’s homeland security and intelligence committees have separately told Danger Room they will subject the FBI’s counterterrorism training to scrutiny.
For months, in fact, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), has raised concerns that law enforcement at all levels lacks “meaningful standards” for counterterrorism training. In the course of his ongoing inquiry on the subject, Lieberman’s staff became aware of a particularly problematic individual: an FBI intelligence analyst named William Gawthrop.
In April, Gawthrop presented a three-day briefing at the FBI’s Quantico training facility to counterterrorism agents in which he equated “mainstream” Islam with terrorism. In earlier interviews, he mused about triggering a “deteriorating cascade effect” upon Islam, convincing Muslims to abandon their religion by attacking “soft spots” in the Islamic faith. And he has lectured widely about the “threat” of Islam, ostensibly as a private citizen.
Lieberman staffers were appalled by the “inappropriate materials being used by Mr. Gawthrop and notified the FBI in mid-July of their concerns,” says Leslie Phillips, Communications Director of the Homeland Security Committee.
The FBI wouldn’t directly comment on the committee’s warning, instead reiterating the Bureau’s new commitment to a wide-ranging review — one that will stretch from Quantico to the FBI’s many field offices to the J. Edgar Hoover Building, its Washington headquarters.
“The senator hopes the FBI will take appropriate action to prohibit these and any other inaccurate training materials from being used in the future,” Phillips adds.
In the meantime, Gawthrop is, as of this writing, still an FBI counterterrorism analyst. And the message he helped inculcate in the Bureau lingers.