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A detailed look at 'the purge' of U.S. counter-terrorism training by the Obama administration

A detailed look at 'the purge' of U.S. counter-terrorism training by the Obama administration

Tonight’s episode of For The Record investigates a series of policies established by the Obama Administration during 2011-2012 that effectively neutered FBI counter-terrorism training and blinded our nation’s intelligence agencies to the threat from Islamic terrorism.

In what some experts have termed a hostile “political warfare campaign” driven by an alliance between the administration, Islamic organizations and cooperating media figures, analysts and subject matter experts were blacklisted, and books and training materials were purged from official counter-terrorism training programs government-wide.

This “purge” has contributed to clues being missed by the FBI in major terrorism cases, including last year’s bombing of the Boston Marathon recounted this past September in an episode of For The Record:

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One of the first indicators of these efforts was the cancellation of an anti-terrorism conference scheduled for August 10-12, 2011 hosted by the CIA’s Threat Management Unit.

As reported by veteran Pentagon reporter Bill Gertz at the Washington Times, the conference was cancelled at the demand of Islamic groups who objected to presentations that were to be conducted by former Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence analyst and international law expert Stephen Coughlin (who is featured in tonight’s episode) and Steve Emerson of The Investigative Project on Terrorism. An email sent to conference registrants explained that the Department of Homeland Security would be formulating new guidelines for vetting speakers and screening presentation content.

The cancellation of the CIA terrorism conference was followed in September 2011 by a series of articles by far-Left blogger Spencer Ackerman at WIRED Magazine that claimed counter-terrorism trainers and materials used by the FBI were promoting “Islamophobia." One of Ackerman’s targets was books in the library at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, that he deemed offensive. It should be noted that as a general rule banning books in government-funded libraries is considered rank censorship.

While a number of claims made by Ackerman in his series of articles were later found to be manifestly false, inside U.S. government agencies individuals targeted by Ackerman’s articles were prohibited from speaking publicly in defense of themselves and their work and “The Purge” continued apace.

Black October

Then in October 2011, a remarkable series of events dramatically shifted U.S. government policies largely fueled by Ackerman’s reporting.

The first event was the circulation by Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to government agencies of a list of “Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Training Do’s and Don’ts." Among those targeted in the DHS training ban were what the document called “self-professed ‘Muslim reformers,'” who the agency warned “may further an interest group agenda instead of delivering generally accepted, unbiased information.”

Among other “don’ts” declared by DHS was this warning:

Don’t use training that relies on fear or conspiracies to motivate law enforcement. Don’t use training premised on theories with little or no evidence to support them. Examples (from the report “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace”) of unsubstantiated theories include…Mainstream Muslim organizations are fronts for Islamic political organizations who true desire is to establish Sharia law in America.

Remarkably, some of the very organizations that the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties had partnered with had been identified by the Justice Department as fronts for international terrorist organizations in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial in 2007 and 2008, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). At the time these guidelines were published, the president of ISNA, Imam Mohamed Majid, was serving on the DHS Countering Violent Extremism Working Group.

Not only had the Justice Department named these organizations as unindicted co-conspirators during the trial, but federal prosecutors had outline in court documents that these organizations were integral parts of an international conspiracy to funnel money to the terrorist group HAMAS. In one Justice Department filing, prosecutors noted that “numerous exhibits were entered into evidence establishing both ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case.” In another filing they observed:

ISNA and NAIT, in fact, shared more with HLF than just a parent organization. They were intimately connected with the HLF and its assigned task of providing financing support to HAMAS. Shortly after HAMAS was founded in 1987, as an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, Govt. Exh. 21-61, the International Muslim Brotherhood ordered the Muslim Brotherhood chapters throughout the world to create Palestine Committees, whose job it was to support HAMAS with “media, money and men.” Govt. Exh. 3-15. The U.S. Muslim Brotherhood created the U.S. Palestine Committee, which documents reflect was initially comprised of three organizations: the OLF (HLF), the IAP [Islamic Association for Palestine], and the UASR [United Association for Studies and Research]. CAIR was later added to these organizations. Govt. Exh. 3-78 (listing IAP, HLF, UASR and CAIR as part of the Palestine Committee, and stating that there is “[n]o doubt America is the ideal location to train the necessary resources to support the Movement worldwide…”). The mandate of these organizations, per the International Muslim Brotherhood, was to support HAMAS, and the HLF’s particular role was to raise money to support HAMAS’ organization inside the Palestinian terrories. (p. 13, emphasis added)

During the Holy Land trial, FBI Agent Lara Burns testified in court that CAIR was a front for HAMAS. One trial exhibit submitted by federal prosecutors – and stipulated to by the defense in the case – explained that these organizations were dedicated to a “civilizational-jihadist process” to destroy America from within and replace the Constitution with sharia (Islamic law):

The Ikhwah [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion [Islam] is made victorious over all other religions. (p. 21)

Federal prosecutors specifically cited this internal Muslim Brotherhood planning document as the strategic goal of these U.S.-based Islamic groups – the very same group advising the Obama Administration. The federal judge in the Holy Foundation case agreed with the case presented by the federal prosecutors had made regarding these organizations, stating in one ruling that “the Government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations with CAIR, ISNA and NAIT with HLF…and with HAMAS.” (p. 14-15)

One of the architects of the new DHS guidelines was Mohamed Elibiary, who served on the DHS Countering Violent Extremism Working Group, was appointed in October 2010 by Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Homeland Security Advisory Council and is now a senior fellow for the agency, who has publicly admitted to his role in developing the DHS guidelines. Unsurprisingly, he was a regular source for WIRED’s Spencer Ackerman.

Elibiary served in these roles despite his long history of speaking at extremist events, and more recently his public statement in support of radical jihadist ideologues from the Muslim Brotherhood and declaring America “an Islamic country,” recounted in The Blaze documentary “Rumors of War III” and in last year’s For the Record episode, “Civilizational Jihad”:

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The net effect of the DHS guidelines was to effectively ban any discussion of the facts about their outreach partners presented by the Justice Department in federal court and to blacklist any counter-terrorism trainer who raised the issue. Coincidentally, the guidelines currently on the DHS website have since removed the directions banning “Muslim reformers” and “conspiracy theories” discussed above.

But “the purge” was about to get worse.

On October 19, 2011, three separate events would occur that would demonstrate the coordinated effort between the administration and its Islamic outreach partners to institutionalize the guidelines set out just days before by DHS.

The first event was the publication of an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Salam al-Marayati, a Democratic Party operative, Obama adviser and president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), calling for a ban on so-called “anti-Muslim” trainers and materials, claiming that such endangered the partnerships between Islamic organizations and law enforcement.

The hypocrisy of al-Marayati’s demands is seen when considered that he had previously been removed from a U.S. government terrorism commission in 1999 for his statements in support of a terrorist organization. Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, al-Marayati came under fire again for comments he made on a Los Angeles radio program just hours after the attacks saying that the chief suspects should be “the state of Israel."

MPAC as an organization has been criticized for publications defending terrorist organizations and equating Islamic suicide attacks with Patrick Henry and “American freedom fighters." On September 11, 2012 – the same day that mobs stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi – MPAC published a report of 25 speakers, academics and subject matter experts they demanded be blacklisted from giving counter-terrorism training (myself included, with MPAC accusing me of being a “pseudo-expert” in an area that I have never taught nor have I declared myself to be an expert).

An October 19 event featuring Islamic groups and sponsored by the Justice Department (the same agency that had identified several of the organizations and Islamic leaders in attendance at the event) was held at George Washington University on the topic of “Post 9/11 Discrimination." One of the speakers at the event was Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and his speech at the event is published on the Justice Department’s website. Also in attendance was the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Tom Perez (now secretary of the Commerce Department).

The Daily Caller's Neil Munro was also at the DOJ conference and reported that some Islamic leaders called for the criminalization of criticism of Islam under discrimination laws without any reference to how such rules would run afoul of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. According to Munro, ISNA’s Mohamed Magid openly called for “Perez to change the federal government’s rules governing terror investigations, for more private meetings with top justice department officials, for the reeducation of FBI agents, and for more people to oppose criticism of Islam, which he labelled ‘religious bigotry and hate.’”

These sentiments were formalized that same day in a seven-page letter signed by fifty-seven U.S. Islamic groups, including ISNA, CAIR and MPAC, to Obama’s “counterterrorism czar” John Brennan (now CIA director) again invoking Spencer Ackerman’s reporting. Among the demands made in the letter were:

  • “Purge all federal government training materials of biased materials”
  • “[M]andatory re-training program for FBI agents”
  • “[A]ll trainers and other government employees who promoted biased trainers and training materials are effectively disciplined”

Purges, blacklists, book banning, mandatory “re-education” and punishment would otherwise sound like a program by the Khmer Rouge, not so-called U.S. “civil rights” organizations. But these events of “Black October” would set in motion a radical shift in our nation’s national security and counter-terrorism policies.

The Obama Administration Responds

The October 19th letter by the fifty-seven Islamic groups received a reply from Brennan two weeks later (which one former White House official described to me as “lightning speed”) acceding to their demands and promising swift action by the administration.

The White House was true to its word. Just days later the Pentagon’s issued a Joint Staff Action Directive directed at multiple elements within the Defense Department, including academic institutions, calling for the vetting of all “CVE trainers." Curiously, the directive was drafted on October 14 – prior to the Islamic groups’ letter being sent to the White House – but was embargoed until November 15, presumably to give time for Brennan’s response to be sent and received.

The directive stated that “the intent 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.” Yet again, the sole reason cited for such efforts was Spencer Ackerman’s reporting and a copy of one of his articles was added as an attachment.

In December 2011, the White House issued the “Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States” – the local partners, of course, being Islamic organizations, including those cited by the Justice Department as working to aid foreign terrorist organizations. All national security and law enforcement agencies on the federal, state and local level would now have to consult these groups and rely on “local partners” as a matter of policy. And as made clear in Salam al-Marayati’s Los Angeles Times op-ed, Islamic groups complaining about counter-terrorism policies or training would disrupt government efforts to “counter violent extremism” gave them an implicit veto over counter-terrorism policies.

The State Department under Hillary Clinton got into the game as well. Earlier in the year Clinton had made remarks at a meeting with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul on the topic of “Combatting Religious Intolerance," saying that the U.S. government would employ “old fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” in addressing “Islamophobia” with a vow to “promoting interfaith education and collaboration” to those ends. She specifically invoked a pending UN Human Rights Council Resolution (HCR 16/18) sponsored by the OIC on “combatting intolerance” that the OIC unashamedly said was intended to create a global regime to stifle criticism of Islam. Clinton failed to explain how these could be taken in the absence of any constitutional mandate for “peer pressure and shaming," or how her plans for “interfaith education and collaboration” and de facto Islamic blasphemy laws avoided the First Amendment’s prohibition of separation of church and state.

Clinton met with OIC leaders for three days behind closed doors at the State Department in December 2011, where one of the stated topics of discussion with these foreign leaders was “training government officials on religious and cultural awareness." Not only would U.S.-based Islamic groups have a direct say in the counter-terrorism training of U.S. government officials and agents, but it would also be done now in consultation with foreign Islamic states.

The State Department would later publish a report on those December consultation proceedings with the OIC. That December the OIC’s UNHCR Resolution 16/18 was approved with the support of the Obama Administration and the State Department, however the free speech implications of this new U.S.-backed regime did not go unnoticed.

The Clinton State Department’s collaboration with the OIC to smuggle in Islamic blasphemy laws and criminalize criticism of Islam in the guise of “combatting religious intolerance” was covered in TheBlaze’s September 2012 two-part documentary, “The Project”:

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That these new speech codes are now being translated into official Obama Administration policy can be seen in the statements by a U.S. attorney, who told a group of Muslim activists that statements made on social media outlets, such as Facebook, critical of Islam could be considered civil rights violations.

The FBI’s “Islamophobia” Star Chamber

One of the stated primary objectives in the Islamic groups’ demands for action by the Obama Administration was the fundamental transformation of the FBI’s counter-terrorism training and investigative policies. And ultimately, they got what they wanted.

On February 8, 2012, a number of leaders from the Islamic organizations that had signed the October 19 demand letter met with FBI Director Robert Mueller, including representatives from ISNA and MPAC. Their intent was to check the progress of their demands for a “purge” (the term they used) of the bureau’s counter-terrorism training materials, again invoking Spencer Ackerman’s articles. They were told that more than 700 documents and 300 presentations had been purged from the FBI’s training.

But as Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a professor at the Institute Of World Politics and a trainer for numerous military and law enforcement agencies, recounts in tonight’s episode of For The Record, as “the purge” was being implemented during this period a demand was made for his presentation on Al Qaeda delivered repeatedly during FBI training events for review. A week later his powerpoint presentation was returned with instructions to remove several slides on the demand of an anonymous reviewer. Not only was Dr. Gorka afforded no opportunity to appeal or explanation of why certain elements had been deemed “inflammatory," but the identity of the reviewer was never disclosed.

As complaints from inside the national security, intelligence and law enforcement community of these “Star Chamber” procedures began to reach Capitol Hill, several members of Congress began to make inquiries to the FBI as to why these trainers were being denied due process to defend their training and their work.

The result was a March 23, 2012, meeting between a representative from the FBI responsible for purging the counter-terrorism training materials, and attorneys and staffers with the House Judiciary Committee. For The Record has obtained a transcript of that conversation based on an audio recording made of the meeting. That transcript reveals that questions were raised about the identities and qualifications of the three anonymous outside contractors who were hired by the FBI to review all of their counter-terrorism training materials.

When one congressional staff attorney asked given the poor historical record of the FBI in selecting Muslim advisers and outreach partners, how the bureau knew they were “good guys," the jaw-dropping response from the FBI agent tasked with overseeing the department’s purge was, "Well I mean – I guess we – ultimately, I don’t."

Even more troubling was a document the FBI presented to the congressional staffers that was represented as the “guiding principles” by which the materials were reviewed. But a review of the “FBI’s Guiding Principles” document shows an even more shocking shift in U.S. government policies:

Training must clearly distinguish between constitutionally protected statements and activities designed to achieve political, social, or other objectives, and violent extremism, which is characterized by the use, threatened use, or advocacy of use of force or violence (when directed at and likely to incite imminent lawless activity) in violation of federal law to further a movement’s social or political ideologies. This distinction includes recognition of the corresponding principle that mere association with organizations that demonstrate both legitimate (advocacy) and illicit (violent extremism) objectives should not automatically result in a determination that the associated individual is acting in furtherance of the organization’s illicit objective(s). (emphasis added)

One congressional staff attorney described to me the implications of the FBI’s new “touchstone” policy:

The FBI is clearly saying here that if you support a designated terrorist organization or group that engages in violence, but that same organization engages in some kind of non-violent activity, like religious or ideological instruction, your support for that terrorist organization is deemed by this administration as constitutionally protected.

There are two immediate problems with the FBI’s policy. First is that it is in direct conflict with federal law and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project that found that even non-violent support for a terrorist group is a violation of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The second problem is practical. For all the talk by this administration about countering violent extremism, if that violent extremist group engages in non-violent activity there’s no ability for the government to ever counter its extremism because they have thrown a constitutional cloak over everything. They’ve undercut virtually all basis to do CVE.

Look, it’s clear the real reason for this policy is that the administration had to rehabilitate their Muslim outreach partners, like ISNA and CAIR, who the Justice Department had proved during the Holy Land Foundation trial had supported terrorism. That’s a matter of court record. And the net effect of this and the whole government-wide purge has been to hamstring our counter-terrorism agencies and shut down terrorism investigations. So we shouldn’t be surprised when Americans get killed because of this political correctness.

The meeting between the FBI and House Judiciary Committee staff resulted in raising more questions than it answered. But when Congress began asking questions about the FBI’s questionable standards for purging their training materials and who was doing the reviewing, the FBI began throwing up obstacles.

As reported in this clip from tonight’s For The Record episode, when members of Congress began asking about the identities and background of the FBI’s outside “subject matter experts” (SMEs), the FBI took the unprecedented step of classifying their names:

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And when members of Congress asked to review the documents and presentations that had been purged, rather than providing them for review, the FBI made them sign confidentiality agreements and they had to review the purged materials in a secure room at FBI headquarters under the watchful eye of multiple FBI minders.

But the absurd lengths taken by the FBI were just beginning. On May 10, 2012 Congressman Louie Gohmert (TX-01) gave a speech on the House floor using a graph prepared by Stephen Coughlin comparing the terms used in the 9/11 Commission Report with the National Security Intelligence Strategy and the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Analytical Lexicon, noting terms such as “jihad,” “Islam,” and even “Al-Qaeda” that had been repeatedly used by the 9/11 Commission had now been virtually eradicated in the later documents.

CREDIT: Stephen Coughlin CREDIT: Stephen Coughlin

Remarkably, the following day a staffer in the FBI’s congressional liaison office called the House Judiciary Committee to claim that the FBI Counter-Terrorism Analytical Lexicon noted in Rep. Gohmert’s presentation didn’t actually exist. As I reported at the time, the FBI lexicon is not only publicly available, it is repeatedly referred to in other U.S. government documents.

And when Rep. Gohmert asked FBI Director Mueller during a House Judicial Committee oversight hearing about the identities of the outside experts used to purge the training, Mueller said that the names would only be disclosed to members of Congress in a classified setting:

Government watchdog Judicial Watch finally obtained redacted copies of the purged FBI materials last year only after filing a lawsuit against the bureau, discovering that some materials that the unnamed reviewers found to be factually accurate were nonetheless rejected based on highly subjective criteria, such as the reviewer objecting that the “tone” of the presentation was inappropriate.

What can be seen from these episodes is that in less than a year, the Obama Administration instituted policies – driven directly from the White House – that censored counter-terrorism trainers and training on the basis of whether certain Muslim groups (some of which with highly questionable records) deemed them offensive. The arbitrariness with which this campaign has been conducted raises serious questions about the dubious constitutionality and legality of these efforts. And yet the result of these policies has wrought a fundamental transformation of how our nation’s national security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies conduct counter-terrorism.

And many experts inside and outside those agencies, and even Capitol Hill, are concerned those changes are not for the better.

Are Americans more vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of the Obama Administration’s politically correct policies that have gutted counter-terrorism training? Watch For The Record Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for “The Purge,” only on TheBlaze.

Patrick Poole is a counter-terrorism and national security consultant for TheBlaze. You can follow him (@pspoole) on Twitter.

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