At a congressional hearing on Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the Bureau was through with training sessions that equated “mainstream” Muslims with terrorists — and besides, briefings like those were mere “isolated incidents.” But Mueller’s description of the extent of the training doesn’t square with a large body of evidence that Danger Room has reported.
“This was an unusual, very unusual occasion,” Mueller told Rep. Jan Schakowsky during a hearing of the House intelligence committee. “In this particular instance, the individual gave the training. Reports of what had been in that training came up from the students. And we took action to assure that that inappropriate, offensive content was not provided to others. There have been other instances that may include what would be perceived as offensive content. We have undertaken a review from top to bottom of our counterterrorism training.”
It’s apparently true that FBI intelligence analyst William Gawthrop — who conducted the counterterrorism training Mueller apparently referred to — only held a particular three-day seminar at the FBI training academy on one occasion. But the FBI did not “take action to assure that that inappropriate offensive content was not provided to others.” At least, they didn’t do so in a timely manner. Two months later, Gawthrop gave a similar briefing to a New York City partnership between the FBI and private business. In that one, he analogized Islam to the Death Star and claimed al-Qaida was “irrelevant” compared to the broader threat of Islam itself.
And while that style of training may not have been he norm at the Bureau, it wasn’t all that an “unusual circumstance,” as Mueller put it.
The FBI’s library at Quantico — not a public lending library, but a private one designed to help agents close cases — hosts books by numerous anti-Islam authors, months after the FBI promised Danger Room similar material had been purged. Several different anti-Islam lecturers have briefed FBI field offices over the years. A 2006 FBI intelligence assessment lists increased religious fervor among Muslims as a potential indicator of terrorism. The FBI’s internal Internet hosted “subject matter expert” webpages that claimed Muslims incline toward committing “genocide” against non-Muslims. Or it did until Danger Room started running its series on counterterrorism training — after which that material abruptly disappeared.
And it’s also misleading for Mueller to suggest that the FBI began its scrub of the training unprompted, after “students” informed their superiors that Gawthrop’s lecture was inappropriate. The review only happened after Danger Room published story after story on the training, and puncturing the FBI’s line that it only happened once. After a week of those stories, the FBI announced it would review its counterterrorism pedagogy — although the anti-Islam training had festered for months and, in some cases, even years.
Mueller pledged that the bureau’s review of counterterrorism training would put the “isolated incidents” behind it. But downplaying the extent of its permeation raises questions about the review’s thoroughness. And Mueller, who characterized the briefings as “offensive,” suggested that he was also seized by the opposite concern — that the review might provide too deep of a scrub for FBI training.
“We have an obligation to try to identify future threats to the United States,” Mueller said. “It should not be based on religion. It should not be based on religious characteristics. But nonetheless, we have an obligation to identify those particular characteristics that might give us a warning as to a person who will undertake an attack against the United States.”
H/T to Ryan J. Reilly of TPM.