FBI: Okay, Fine, We’ll Do Something About That Anti-Muslim Training

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Following the outcry from U.S. Senators and Muslim groups over revelations that the FBI has utilized anti-Muslim materials in counterterrorism training courses, the Bureau has announced it will be conducting a “a comprehensive review of all training and reference materials that relate in any way to religion or culture.” A series of stories by Spencer Ackerman at Wired showed that training material portraying Muslims as inherently violent and radical were used by the Bureau. 

The FBI insisted last week that the training in question, which had been offered in March of this year, had been discontinued “because it was inconsistent with FBI standards on this topic.” But on Tuesday Ackerman reported that the FBI Official who had offered the training, William Gawthrop, spoke at an FBI-sponsored event where he declared that individual terrorist groups like al Qaeda were “irrelevant” and that “We waste a lot of analytic effort talking about the type of weapon, the timing, the tactics. All of that is irrelevant … if you have an Islamic motivation for actions.” Gawthrop instead explained that Islam itself was the problem, utilizing a Star Wars metaphor:

“If you remember Star Wars, that ventilation shaft that goes down to into the depths of the Death Star, they shot a torpedo down there. That’s a critical vulnerability,” Gawthrop told his audience. Then he waved a laser pointer at his projected PowerPoint slide, calling attention to the words “Holy Texts” and “Clerics.”

“We should be looking at, should be aiming at, these,” Gawthrop said.

The FBI issued this statement on Wednesday:

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.

If this had been done earlier, the FBI might have avoided some embarrassment. The stakes, of course, are much higher than that. The FBI has vast authority to conduct domestic surveillance, and the kind of Islamophobic cultural illiteracy represented by Gawthrop’s training makes it more difficult to locate and identify actual terrorists. It also damages the FBI’s ability to form relationships with the American Muslim community, relationships FBI Director Robert Mueller himself has identified as crucial to stopping attacks before they happen. 

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