September 8 was a good day for Mohamed Elibiary. A Muslim community leader in Dallas who spent much of the 9/11 Era working with law enforcement — sometimes facing the skepticism of both the cops and his neighbors — he traveled to Washington to get an award recognizing his efforts from none other than FBI Director Robert Mueller. In presenting him with the Louis E. Peters Memorial Service Award, the FBI dubbed Elibiary a “consensus builder between the national Islamic community and the numerous agencies dedicated to the prevention of terrorism.”
But that already-arduous task just got a lot tougher, Elibiary says, now that Danger Room has exposed what many U.S. Muslims have long suspected: some within the FBI consider them a threat and a support network for terrorists, rather than a community to be trusted and protected.
“More than most American Muslims, I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly behind the intimidating security curtain of law enforcement intelligence agencies like the FBI,” Elibiary tells Danger Room. “This makes my job — and the FBI field offices’ jobs — harder.”
In an impassioned blog post on Saturday, Elibiary wrote that our story was “disquieting and demoralizing,” as it showed the FBI undermining community leaders like him who urge American Muslims to work with cops and feds.
“It has been a long time since I’ve witnessed a media report resonate across so many segments of Muslim communities as this Ackerman report,” he wrote, “so we’ll have to wait to see if it produces a long-lasting impact upon the Muslim community’s confidence in the bureau.”
Elibiary remains hopeful. “I know that most FBI local officials are on my side, not with the anti-Muslim bigots,” Elibiary tells Danger Room. “If I were to meet with Director Mueller today, I’d tell him the same thing I told him privately at my award ceremony earlier this month. We’re here with our hand extended, ready to help.”
Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco civil rights group Muslim Advocates, had a different message. She slammed the FBI for “repeated failures” to be forthcoming “and perhaps even intentionally misleading” about the extent of its training on Islam. “When the FBI allows its employees to demonize and demean an entire faith community, and misleads the public about it, these actions erode public trust and confidence in law enforcement,” Khera tells Danger Room. The Justice Department’s inspector general has yet to respond to a letter Muslim Advocates sent last week seeking an investigation.
On Wednesday morning, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a controversial and much-vilified U.S. Muslim advocacy group, will hold a press conference outside FBI headquarters in Washington to demand inquiries into the counterterrorism training that Danger Room has exposed.
“We’ve been disappointed in the FBI’s response to date. They’ve been communicating that this is an isolated event, and it’s not,” says Corey Saylor, a CAIR spokesman. “I dont think they’ve put measures in place that will stop the use of biased trainers or biased materials. It’s time for them to take swift action for reform.”
Some on Capitol Hill feel the same way. A spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says the intelligence panel would begin looking into the FBI’s counterterrorism training. The spokesman offered no further comment. Last Thursday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Committee, told Danger Room his panel would do the same. Not a single representative of the security oversight committees in the House of Representatives would respond to repeated interview requests from Danger Room.
Experienced counterterrorism officials say there’s no way security agencies can detect and prevent the next domestic attack without cooperation from U.S. Muslim communities. But the FBI’s training materials have endangered that. On the very day this April that Mueller told Congress, “We need the support of that community,” counterterrorism analyst William Gawthrop concluded a training session at Quantico that equated “mainstream” Islam with terrorism.
Elibiary concedes that of all the security agencies he’s worked with since 9/11, “the FBI’s culture was the most challenging to crack.” But he considers it inevitable that the FBI will heal its ties with U.S. Muslim communities.
“The real story is the contrast between how counterterrorism is fought out in the field, whether through domestic cooperation or overseas through counterinsurgency doctrine,” Elibiary says, “and how the conspiracy theorists like Gawthrop and company spin their civilizational-collision doctrinal theories.”