Following the release of a report earlier this week exposing controversial, anti-Islamic FBI training materials, the agency has halted the questionable briefings.
On Wednesday, Wired.com's Spencer Ackerman wrote that the FBI has been teaching counter-terrorism agents that American Muslims who are "main stream" are likely to be sympathetic to violent terrorists. The charge apparently comes from FBI whistle blowers who are concerned over the purportedly biased lessons.
In addition to making this claim, the questionable lectures also called the Prophet Mohammed a "cult leader" and explained that the Islamic practice of donating to charity is merely a mechanism through which "combat" can be "funded." Ackerman reports:
At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”
These comments, which are only a snapshot of what's included in the curriculum, have been frustrating for free-speech advocates. But such accusations of anti-Islam in government are nothing new.
In the post 9/11 world, there have been many charges and controversies surrounding the way in which Muslim Americans are treated. The perception, to some, is that this religious minority has been unfairly targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in communities across the nation.
From charges of racial profiling at airports to increased scrutiny and police activity at community mosques, some would say that Islamic civil rights groups' claims have been substantiated.
The exposure of this controversial curriculum is doing more than simply creating potential legal drama for the FBI. According to former counterterrorism agents, the agency's apparent portrayal of mainstream Muslims as potential terrorists (or terrorist sympathizers) may, in fact, assist the al-Qaeda in reaching its radical goals. Ackerman continues:
Focusing on the religious behavior of American citizens instead of proven indicators of criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing makes it more likely that the FBI will miss the real warning signs of terrorism.
Additionally, portraying normal, everyday Muslims in this light, Ackerman says, may also play into the al-Qaeda narrative that the United States and Islam are in conflict and incompatible. This could hold the potential to make mainstream Muslims feel as though they are prime targets. By simply attacking their faith, critics say, larger and more intricate issues may arise.
Below, see some of the controversial slides that come from one of the briefings, entitled, "Strategic Themes and Drivers in Islamic Law," which took place back on March 21:
It's important to note that these briefings were elective and not mandatory, though they were delivered to agents who were on the job for two or three years. And the first slide of the aforementioned presentation claims that the opinions presented within are those of the author and not the U.S. government.
Still, some feel that these briefings have no place in government. Another presentation (see the below graphic) actually graphs out the relation between violence and Islamic adherence:
Ackerman explains that it's not clear what the vetting process was like at the FBI before these briefings were delivered at Quantico. He writes, "Several of these briefings were the work of a single author: an FBI intelligence analyst named William Gawthrop." Acherman continues:
The FBI didn’t always conflate terrorism with Islam. “I never saw that,” says Ali Soufan, one of the FBI’s most distinguished counterterrorism agents and author of the new memoir The Black Banners, who retired from the bureau in 2005. “Sometimes, toward the end of my time, I started noticing it with different entities outside the FBI. You started feeling like they had a problem with Islam-as-Islam, because of the media. But that was a few people, and was usually hidden behind closed doors.”
According to CNN, FBI spokesman Christopher M. Allen responded to the controversy with the following statement:
"This particular training segment was conducted six months ago, one time only, at Quantico and was quickly discontinued. The instructor who conducted that training block no longer provides training on behalf of the FBI. Policy changes have been under way to better ensure that all training is consistent with FBI standards. These changes will help develop appropriate training content for new agent training and continuing education for all employees, as well as introduce a robust consultative element from experts outside the FBI."
CNN National Security contributor and former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes explains that the agency wants to expose its staff to a diverse set of ideas. Contrary to the content in these slides, he claims that agents do not generally hold the view that mainstream Muslims are radical. "They...believe in a strong outreach program," he says.
Fuentes explains that the FBI may actually gain some credibility in the eyes of Muslims for pulling the training materials so quickly. As for the analyst, he's still employed by the FBI -- a fact which will likely be lamented by some.