UPDATE: It seems the FBI was duly embarrassed by the Wired exposé about the grossly misleading things some of its counterterrorism instructors had been teaching its agents about Islam.
The bureau this week came out with a press release pledging to take a closer look at its curriculum:
"The FBI is currently conducting a comprehensive review of all training and reference materials that relate in any way to religion or culture. Additionally, the FBI will consult with outside experts on the development and use of training materials to best ensure the highest level of quality for new agent training, continuing education for all employees, and any FBI-affiliated training. All training will be consistent with FBI core values, the highest professional standards, and adherence to the Constitution."
The FBI had originally responded by downplaying the Islamophobic lectures (see update below). But Wired's Spencer Ackerman kept hammering away, and on Tuesday he posted video of an FBI instructor delivering a lecture in which he declared al-Qaida "irrelevant" and emphasized that the way to stop terrorism is to attack Islam itself. With Joe Lieberman and other senators blasting the bureau for "inaccurate or even bigoted" pedagogy, and a key Muslim ally saying the briefings make his job harder, the FBI apparently felt compelled to back down.
UPDATE Friday, Sept. 16.: The FBI has issued an official response, saying that "this particular training segment was conducted six months ago" and "one time only" before it was "quickly discontinued." The instructor in question "no longer provides training on behalf of the FBI," notes the news release.
POST Thursday, Sept. 17: One of al-Qaida’s goals is to convince mainstream Muslims that their faith requires them to violently oppose American interests. Apparently, the FBI agrees.
Citing documents leaked by FBI whistleblowers, Wired’s Danger Room blog reports that the agency has been teaching its counterterrorism agents that mainstream American Muslims are “likely to be terrorist sympathizers” and that the Islamic pillar of zakat, or almsgiving, is a “funding mechanism for combat.” Other gems from the Quantico lesson plans include a description of Mohammed as a “cult leader” and a pseudo-scientific graph showing that while Jews and Christians have become more peaceful over time, Muslims have always been violent.
Danger Room, which has exposed crude anti-Muslim FBI training materials in the past as well, writes that the FBI has dismissed some of those documents as “rudimentary” lesson plans that are no longer in use. But it finds that at least one of the newly uncovered briefings took place as recently as March 21.
As Mother Jones' Adam Serwer points out, that’s around the same time that Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding to know what standards the FBI uses to vet its counterterrorism trainers. The call followed a Washington Monthly investigation showing that some of those trainers were little more than Islamophobic cranks spewing jokes and anecdotes designed to promote an us-vs.-them worldview.
In the latest Danger Room post, an FBI spokesman responds with the excuse that “a disclaimer accompanied the presentation stating that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.” Danger Room adds:
Several of these briefings were the work of a single author: an FBI intelligence analyst named William Gawthrop. In 2006, before he joined the Bureau, he gave an interview to the website WorldNetDaily, and discussed some of the themes that made it into his briefings, years later. The Prophet “Muhammad’s mindset is a source for terrorism,” Gawthrop told the website, which would later distinguish itself as a leader of the “birther” movement, a conspiracy theory that denies President Obama’s American citizenship.
Frustrated with Obama’s inaction on the issue, Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, and Collins, a Maine Republican, are now considering drafting legislation to address the problem, Talking Points Memo reported on Tuesday. In a letter to the president, the senators wrote:
As we have previously stated in letters to this administration, we have serious concerns that improper training may not be isolated occurrences and could be detrimental to our efforts to confront homegrown terrorism. Since Muslim Americans are our main allies in the fight against violent Islamist extremism domestically, any training that implies otherwise is both inaccurate and counterproductive.