When FBI training materials containing anti-Muslim stereotypes leaked to the press last year, FBI Director Robert Mueller called them "isolated incidents." But a subsequent federal investigation, not yet complete, has so far found 876 pages and 392 presentations that are far more offensive than previously imagined.
The findings, which were only shown to the Senate Judiciary Committee, outraged some Democratic senators. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois disclosed a few of the more chilling findings, which he said left him "disappointed" and "disturbed."
These included a slide that advised trainees: "Never attempt to shake hands with an Asian," "Never stare at an Asian," and "Never try to speak to an Asian female prior to approaching Arab male first."
Another slide states that the "Western Mind" is "even keel," while in the Arab world, "Outbursts and loss of control are expected" and "What's wrong with frequent Jekyll and Hyde temper tantrums."
Another slide said, "Under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law and impinge the freedom of others."
"Time and time again when that is done, it has not made us safer," a stunned Durbin told Wired's Danger Room.
Durbin fears that the FBI is trying to keep the findings quiet, which could damage the government's relationships with Muslim and Arab communities, and ultimately harm counterterrorism efforts. The FBI has had longstanding outreach initiatives with Muslim communities in order to recruit sources and gather intelligence.
But the FBI's relationship with Muslim American communities was strained even before the training materials leaked. In February 2009, it emerged that the FBI had planted a covert agent in California mosques, which the FBI neither confirmed nor denied. Ten Muslim groups called it "McCarthy-era tactics" and threatened to stop working with the FBI.
The FBI also severed its relationship with the country's largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, around the same time, after an FBI investigation found that it had links to Hamas. The Council on American-Islamic Relations denied the charge, and called it an "unfortunate legacy" of the George W. Bush administration's attempts to marginalize them.
Before that point, representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations used to give training sessions to agents.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also released FBI records that showed that the bureau's San Francisco division had used Muslim outreach efforts to collect intelligence. The FBI claims that this information gathering was legitimate. The ACLU says it was illegal.
In a separate case, The Associated Press revealed that the New York Police Department conducted extensive surveillance of local Muslim populations.
Mueller has said that the cooperation of Muslim communities is "tremendously important," and that revelations, such as the one about offensive training materials, "set us back."
President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser called the FBI training "substandard and offensive" and "completely counter to our values ... and our broader counterterrorism efforts."
The FBI doesn't plan to produce a written report of the investigation, or release the findings to Congress or the public. Only members of the Senate Judiciary Committee can see them, and even then, only at FBI headquarters. The FBI also hasn't made a public apology.
"I believe that sunlight is the best antiseptic," Durbin wrote to Mueller on Tuesday, "and that making public the results of the FBI's review would be an important step to restoring the trust of the American people, especially American Muslims and Arab Americans."
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, whose state has the largest population of Somali Muslims in the U.S., has also hinted at his disapproval of the FBI's response. At the Senate Judiciary Committee's FBI oversight hearing in December, the Democrat asked Mueller: "Has the FBI issued a clear and unequivocal apology to the Muslim American community for the bigoted and inflammatory statements found in those materials?"
Mueller replied that the FBI had apologized to individual Muslim American leaders.
Durbin expressed further concern that no FBI employee has been held accountable or disciplined for the offensive training. He's also worried that the investigation isn't looking into who received the training, writing "there is a real risk that agents will be operating on false assumptions about Arab Americans and American Muslims."
The FBI has a tarnished history when it comes to its dealings with Muslims. In the 1960s, the FBI's covert and often illegal counterintelligence program COINTELPRO targeted black Muslim groups, like the Nation of Islam. In documents, the FBI explicitly advised the discrediting and "destruction of the organization."
In his letter, Durbin advises Mueller to develop a detailed training curriculum on Islam. The steps the FBI has taken so far to rectify this incident, he writes, aren't "clear," and certainly aren't "adequate."
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