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INFILTRATIONHOW MUSLIM SPIES AND SUBVERSIVES HAVE PENETRATED WASHINGTON
By PAUL SPERRY
NELSON CURRENTCopyright © 2007 PAUL SPERRY
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDON'T PICK ON MUSLIMS
Sensitivity Training for FBI Agents
"The bureau is against-has been and will be against-any form of profiling [of Arabs or Muslims]." -FBI Director Robert S. Mueller
A year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI invited the head of an influential Arab-rights group to speak about Islam to about four hundred new agents in the auditorium of the FBI Academy, the bureau's high-security training campus hidden in the woods of Quantico, Virginia, about an hour south of Washington. The lecture by Dr. Ziad Asali, then-president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was mandatory and lasted about one hour. Asali, a Palestinian refugee, "talked about how peaceful their religion is, and how not to offend Muslims ... showing respect for their culture, things like that," says FBI Academy spokesman Kirk Crawford.
And at least four times the following year, the FBI's New York field office held all-day sensitivity training sessions, not far from Ground Zero, featuring Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Masjid al-Farah mosque. Speaking for about two hours each session, "he gave an overview of Islamic culture and some of the differences between what fundamentalist terrorist groups say are the teachings of the Quran and what he believes, as a student of religion, the Quran actually says," says special agent James Margolin, spokesman for the FBI New York office.
For example, Rauf asserted that the Quran, the sacred book of Muslims, "certainly doesn't counsel terrorism, murder, or mayhem," Margolin says. And he said terrorists have misinterpreted the Quranic term jihad to mean violent, or armed, struggle against nonbelievers. Rauf claims it means internal struggle.
The rest of the training sessions were conducted by a Muslim FBI agent born in Pakistan. Foria Younis, who works for the Joint Terrorism Task Force, advised fellow agents to respect Muslims by honoring their religious and cultural customs. For instance, she said they should refrain from showing a Muslim the soles of their shoes, which is a sign of disrespect.
The Muslim-sensitivity training program, denounced by some active and former agents, was mandated by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller after the 9/11 attacks and is still in effect. Officially known within the bureau as "Enrichment Training Sessions," the program invites Muslim clerics and scholars to preach to agents about the allegedly peaceful attributes of Islam.
But critics say the Muslim leaders who have lectured to agents have an agenda of soft-peddling the violent aspects of the religion and shielding Muslims from FBI questioning.
"The Muslim and Arab leaders Mueller brought in to train us about Islam weren't interested in helping us investigate terrorism. They all have an agenda of making sure FBI agents don't discriminate against Muslims and Arabs," says recently retired FBI special agent John B. Vincent. "They even came to Quantico to lecture new agents on how not to pick on them."
Mueller has met several times with Arab and Muslim groups since the 9/11 attacks. He even agreed to be the keynote speaker at an American Muslim Council luncheon in Washington-a move that drew fire from AMC critics who warned the director he was legitimizing a group that has sung the praises of Hamas and Hezbollah, officially designated terrorist groups with American, as well as Israeli, blood on their hands. The annual conference also featured speakers from the PLO and government of Syria, a terrorist-sponsoring state. A Mueller spokesman at the time dismissed the concerns, calling the AMC "the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States." Last year, its founder, Abdurahman M. Alamoudi, confessed to plotting acts of terrorism and is now behind bars.
"Mueller should lead the FBI in this war and leave the sensitivity sessions to the human resources department or CNN," complains retired FBI special agent Donald Lavey, who served twenty years in the bureau's counterterrorism section. "Let's just hope the director is leading the charge in this war against terrorism with an equal amount of zeal that he shows for cultural sensitivities," adds Lavey, who points out that Mueller is so politically correct he refuses to use "Islamic" and "terrorism" in the same sentence.
FBI headquarters defends the Muslim-sensitivity program as a way to reach out to the Muslim community in America.
"I hate the word 'sensitivity' training," says FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell. "I would call it an awareness training relative to cultural issues."
Some former colleagues of the late FBI agent John O'Neill say the legendary al-Qaida hunter would probably roll over in his grave if he knew about the Muslim sensitivity program required at his old New York office, where he headed counterterrorism operations last decade.
"This would not have been an issue high on his priority list," says Ivian C. Smith, a retired FBI manager who worked in counterintelligence at bureau headquarters.
"He would not have been interested in improving the cultural awareness of a bunch of FBI agents. He would have considered it a waste of time," Smith says. "And knowing John, he would have probably figured out a way to avoid going to the meetings."
"He was no-nonsense," Smith adds, "brutally focused on al-Qaida."
Still, Smith allows that the cultural training could be beneficial to investigators if designed to help agents improve their field interviewing and interrogation techniques to gain the cooperation of Muslim witnesses and suspects.
HOLD THE BACON
Margolin says this is certainly one of the goals of the program. For example, he notes, agents also are taught to respect the dietary restrictions of devout Muslims. So-called halal dietary laws require their meat be butchered in a certain way. Also, they cannot eat pork or pork byproducts.
"So if you're attempting to be accommodating to a religious Muslim you're interviewing or someone you may have arrested, and you say, 'Gee, I'll run across the street and get you something to eat; you know, you haven't eaten in six hours,' you don't get them a cheeseburger-and you definitely don't get them a bacon cheeseburger," Margolin says. "That would be taken as an offense, when in fact what you're trying to do is maybe open some channels of communication," he adds. The same concerns apply to showing a Muslim witness or suspect the sole of your shoe, he says.
But Lavey insists the program's main objective is political: mollifying vocal Arab-American and Muslim interest groups. He argues that Mueller is so worried about offending American Muslims that he's loath to even describe the most serious terrorist threat against America as "Islamic."
"There's a continued reluctance on the part of the entire FBI to ever use Islamic and terrorism in the same sentence," he says.
Indeed, a search of transcripts of Mueller's congressional testimonies, press conferences, and public speeches turns up no examples of him using the phrase "Islamic terrorism," although he has used the phrase "militant Islamic groups." He typically describes terrorism in generic terms, such as "international terrorism."
It is worth noting that Margolin of the New York office also avoided using the term "Islamic terrorists" during my lengthy interview with him, opting instead for "fundamentalist terrorist groups."
Though bureau spokesman Cogswell admits political correctness "can get out of hand" in Washington, he insists there is no bureau-wide "edict" against describing terrorism or terrorists as "Islamic."
However, President Bush personally made a deal with the Muslim community to never make such a description in public, according to one Muslim activist group. "President Bush told us in a meeting with him that he will make it a point to detach the Islamic label from the word terrorism," says Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. "So you will never see President Bush saying, 'Islamic terrorism.'"
"And in fact, this will help all of us in focusing and concentrating on the problem, and not spreading the whole issue to the religion of Islam," he says.
Actually, it will only worsen the problem, Lavey argues, by distracting from the core issue in the war on terrorism, which is Islamic fundamentalism. He says it is impossible to separate religion from terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, and Washington cannot be shy about calling things by their proper name in a time of war. If it is too "culturally sensitive" to even define the enemy, he argues, it cannot effectively protect the country from it.
"As someone who worked Middle East terrorism for nearly twenty years, I am bothered by the fact that so many influential government leaders and religious leaders who represent Islam see only one side of the sensitivity coin," Lavey says.
"Director Mueller will ensure that all FBI personnel are culturally sensitive to the tenets of Islam," he explains. "But who will ensure that responsible Islamic leaders will be culturally sensitive to the citizens of the United Sates who saw and continue to see their country attacked and innocent countrymen murdered in the name of Islam?"
Lavey and others fear Muslim leaders are teaching FBI agents the PC, sanitized version of the Quran in the interest of mainstreaming Islam. The message agents are hearing is that Muslim terrorists like Osama bin Laden have misinterpreted the Quran, and that devout Muslims in America do not sympathize with them, even though the Quran is replete with instructions exhorting the Muslim faithful to fight, even slay, the "unbelievers" in the cause of Allah. Unbelievers include Christians and Jews.
They cite, for example, Muslim clerics' campaign to spin jihad as nonviolent and nonthreatening to people outside the faith. "They're sugarcoating jihad as an internal struggle by Muslims to improve themselves," Vincent says. "But there is also, without a doubt, a violent component to jihad as taught by the Quran, which is when they kill other people who don't subscribe to their religion-and not just non-Muslims, but also hypocrites," or Muslims who do not follow the Quran.
If agents go into investigations with the assumption that American Muslims do not believe what al-Qaida or Hamas terrorists believe and do not sympathize with their cause, agents argue they may be easily snowed by Muslim suspects, witnesses, and informants. They may also be less inclined to investigate Muslim clerics and scholars themselves, even though some who have preached in this country have been tied to Islamic terrorists.
For example, the nine-hundred-page report on 9/11 intelligence failures released by Congress took the FBI to task for failing to pursue leads back to a local imam involved with two of the al-Qaida hijackers who helped crash an American Airlines jumbo jet into the Pentagon. Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were close to the imam, Anwar Aulaqi. He and the hijackers moved from San Diego to Falls Church, Virginia, where they joined the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, which will be covered in-depth in another chapter. A phone number for the mosque was found in the German apartment of Ramzi Binalshibh, roommate of hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Margolin, for his part, says he is inclined to accept the New York imam's interpretation of the Quran, even though he admits he has not read any of it himself.
"I haven't read the text," he says. "But even in Judaism and Christianity, there are portions of the Old and New Testament that are open to interpretation, and people who are politically left or politically right use the Bible as the authority for their positions." And besides, he adds, the bureau's job is to investigate criminal acts of violence that have been committed, not instructions for violence that may or may not be directed by a religion against those who do not believe in that religion.
"While what the Quran actually says is not insignificant, what we're ultimately concerned with is criminality," Margolin says-which is exactly the kind of tunnel vision that critics say blinded the FBI to the 9/11 cells operating inside America. Before 9/11, supervisors and agents accustomed to solving bank robberies and other black-and-white crimes had little interest in collecting intelligence and analyzing it to prevent terrorism before it happens, a subject I will expand on in the section on law enforcement.
THE PHOENIX MEMO
But bureaucracy was only part of the reason the FBI missed the hijackers' plot. Minority politics also played a role. It turns out that the Phoenix memo-a pre-9/11 proposal by an FBI agent in Arizona to check Middle Eastern students in flight schools-was shelved at headquarters in part because it would have violated bureau guidelines against racial profiling.
Could it happen again? You bet.
"The bureau is against-has been and will be against-any form of profiling," Mueller has testified in response to questions about investigating terrorist leads based on ethnicity or religion. He even reassured the Muslim Public Affairs Council that he does not view the Muslim community as any more suspect than other communities in America. "None of our agents focus on the fact that somebody looks Muslim or not," he said in an April 24, 2003, interview with an MPAC official in his Washington office, while noting the bureau's efforts to train agents to be more sensitive to Muslims. The official, in turn, complimented him: "I think you have been very supportive of the Muslim community."
Career agents worry that Mueller is forcing counterterrorism squads to work at cross-purposes. On one hand, they are under pressure to aggressively flush out terrorist cells inside the Muslim community. But on the other hand, they are told to bend over backwards to avoid offending individuals in that clearly hard target group. They say headquarters' obsession with minority politics is handcuffing field agents trying to work the Muslim community for leads-particularly when they try to question worshippers at American mosques, a shocking number of which have been discovered to be sanctuaries for terrorist activities, as I will document in a coming chapter.
Less than four months before Alamoudi was arrested, Mueller dispatched the head of his civil-rights shop to another AMC conference in Alexandria, Virginia, to tell some three hundred good and decent Muslim leaders and imams gathered there that protecting their civil rights was his "number one priority." FBI official Tom Reynolds assured them that the bureau does not target or even suspect Muslims. "The director has said from the beginning that Islam is good," he said. "The problem is not the [Muslim] community; the problem is a handful of terrorists." With that, an AMC board member stood up to say he has heard "horror stories of how people were investigated" as terrorists. Jamal Barzinji complained that charities to which American Muslims have donated have been raided and shut down. And Barzinji should know: he and a network of charities he and other Washington-area Muslims run are under investigation for funding terrorism. "You didn't shut down the United Way," he fumed at Reynolds, referring to embezzlement scandals brought on that giant charity by its former president.
Reynolds responded by saying the bureau would not tolerate any Muslim harassment: "When FBI agents overstate their grounds, call me." He noted that the bureau has an Office of Professional Responsibility that investigates agents' conduct, and that federal law enforcement officers have been held accountable in the past for religious harassment. For example, Reynolds reminded the audience of the Secret Service agent who was suspended for scrawling "ISLAM IS EVIL" on the prayer calendar of a Muslim accused of having connections to terrorism during a 2002 federal raid of his Detroit home. In addition, he said the bureau would continue its Muslim-sensitivity training of agents at Quantico.
CHOKING BACK TEARS
According to an AMC press release at the time, Reynolds reportedly "choked back tears while talking about the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. He promised that it would never happen again." The FBI official closed his talk by underscoring the fact the bureau views their mosques as partners in the war on terrorism, not targets of investigation. And he expressed his wish that more Muslims would themselves become FBI agents.
Excerpted from INFILTRATION by PAUL SPERRY Copyright © 2007 by PAUL SPERRY . Excerpted by permission.
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