Meet William Gawthrop: ICTOA Promotes Another Counter-Terror “Expert”

October will see the Ninth Conference of the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association take place at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Among the speakers will be  a certain William Gawthrop, billed as “FBI Senior Intelligence Analyst” and speaking on ” Strategic Themes & Drivers in Islamic Law ” and “Influence of the Shariah on Law Enforcement Investigations”. As with some other speakers that the ICTOA has promoted , there is reason to be concerned about the quality of advice that Gawthrop will bring to the event.

Gawthrop is a faculty member at American Military University, and he worked as an assistant intelligence analyst in Northern Iraq in 1991. It seems that his role in Iraq was to make assessments about military capabilities, but these days he presents himself as a specialist in the ideology of Islamic terrorism. However, judging from a look at some of his writings and public statements, his approach is at very a low level. His method appears to be to look through Islamic texts (in English translation) or secondary sources to pick out passages relating to warfare, which are then presented as representing the essence of Islam.

Here he is quoted by WorldNetDaily in 2006:

Gawthrop says jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan are simply following the example of Muhammad, who some 1,400 years ago personally led 27 attacks and sent his armies out 47 additional times against non-Islamic communities averaging about seven operations a year.

He says the Muslim prophet’s military doctrine is contained in the Quran and its supplements, and the insurgents and terrorists are using them as their manual of warfare. They are Muhammad’s soldiers in the 21st century. Homegrown and freelance terrorists are also following his example, he notes.

“There is evidence to support the contention that sources of terrorism in Islam may reside within the strategic themes of Islam,” Gawthrop said. They include “the example of Muhammad, the Quran, the hadiths, Islamic law, the pillars of faith and jihad.”

…Gawthrop says the Pentagon needs to develop a broad new strategy to deal with the threat from Islamic terrorists. But to do so, officials must first overcome the political taboo of linking Islamic violence to the religion of Islam, its sacred scripture and the personal example of its revered prophet.

“Muhammad’s mindset is a source for terrorism,” Gawthrop flatly says.

But of what use is this? Of course Jihadists refer to Islamic texts for inspiration in a general sense, but they fight using twenty-first century technology and twenty-first century strategies. “Muhammad’s mindset” offers no guidance, and given that many Muslims revere “the example of Muhammad” without turning to terrorism Gawthrop is ignoring significant factors that any serious researcher ought to take into account. What are the personal narratives of terrorists? How do they interpret texts, and how to their interpretations relate to wider contexts or alternatives? A general theory of radicalisation based on the claim that militants are “simply following the example of Muhammad” is inadequate for any real understanding, and is obviously polemical rather than analytical.

Another example is a paper, entitled “Zakat-A Warfare Funding Mechanism”, which was published in The Vanguard – The Journal of the Military Intelligence Corps Association, 15 (2). It was reposted (without his name) on the website of Act for America:

ZAKAT: A Warfare Funding Mechanism
This paper examines zakat, commonly thought to be charitable alms giving, as an asymmetrical warfare funding mechanism.

…There are eight obligatory categories of disbursement for Zakat: the poor; those short of money; zakat workers; those whose heart are to be reconciled; those purchasing their freedom;  those in debt, those fighting for Allah; and travelers needing money.

…Recommended Unclassified Intelligence Collection Priorities include the following:  
“What is the annual zakat potential for a geographical area?”
“How is zakat collected in an area of responsibility?”
“Who are the collectors?”
“Where and how are the funds banked until distributed?” 
“Who has the distribution authority?”
“To whom is the distribution being made?”

Gawthrop’s questions are reasonable when applied to specific circumstances, but he doesn’t appear to have any answers – yet he has no hesitation in implying that when ordinary Muslims pay zakat they are supporting terrorism. This is inflammatory and irresponsible. The whole thing is vague, speculative, and not based on anything approaching a case study or placed in any sort of context.

Gawthrop also gives Amazon users the benefit of his expertise by posting book reviews. He favours older books and polemical anti-Islam works, denouncing “the current era of political correctness and academic appeasement.” However, his reviews also raise questions about his abilities. Here’s one unhappy example: Patrick Hughes’s Dictonary of Islam (published in 1885) supposedly included

a definition of “imam” and an interesting observation that when three or more Muslims come together, one must be appointed imam and the others are obliged to obey him (p. 202-204);

What are we meant to infer from this, other than the idea that Islam has a doctrine of unthinking obedience which any reasonable person would consider absurd and dangerous? But here is what Hughes actually writes:

The position of  Imam in this sense is not unlike the sheliach, or legatus, of the Jewish synagogue, who acted as the delegate of the congregation, and was the chief reader of prayers in their name. But quite independent of the duly appointed minister of a mosque, who is responsible for its services, and receives its revenues, no congregation of Muslim worshippers can assemble without one of the party taking the lead in the prayers by standing in front, and who is said “to act as Imam” for the assembly.

The rules laid down on this subject, as given in the Traditions, are as follows (Mishkat, book iv. ch. xxvii., xxviii):-

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri says the Prophet said: ‘When there are three persons, one of them must act as Imam and the other two follow him, and the most worthy of them to act as such is he who repeats the Qur’an best.”

Abu Ma’sud al-Ansari says the Prophet said” “Let him act as Imam to a congregation who knows the Qur’an thoroughly; and if all present should be equal in that respect, then let him perform who is best informed in the rules of prayer; and if they are equal in this respect also, let him act as Imam who has fled for the sake of Islam; and if equal in this likewise, let that person act who is oldest; but the governed must not act as Imam to the governor.”

In other words, when Muslim men come together for worship, a worthy member of the group ought to be chosen lead the prayers. There is no general principle of obedience here, and Gawthrop’s misinterpretation, while perhaps a small point in itself, casts a shadow over his general competence.

The ICTOA has come under critical scrutiny previously, particularly through its association with Walid Shoebat (back in November, it sponsored a “competing” Foot Hood memorial event featuring Shoebat, William “Jerry” Boykin, and Robert Spencer). I’ve written a number of posts about this, and ICTOA also featured in Political Research Associates’ report into counter-terror training. In response, PRA was accused of “defending Al Qaeda” and of smearing “patriotic” organisations, while I was supposedly being funded by George Soros. Such responses speak for themselves.

Improper counter-terrorism training is a subject that has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months: as well as the PRA report, a critical article appeared in the Washington Post in December, and there was a lengthy article in the Washington Monthly in March which prompted an expression of concern from Joe Lieberman, in his capacity as Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, and from Ranking Member Susan Collins. In the last few weeks CNN has investigated Walid Shoebat’s presence at a counter-terrorism training event in South Dakota, while a few days later NPR looked at a training event in Chicago.

(H/T: Political Research Associates)

7 Responses

  1. Richard;

    It is obvious that you have no understanding that intelligence analysist can not cite all their sources of information to the general public. Critical resource identificaitons must be redacted inorder to protect critical sources. Read human informants, i.e., real live people. These analyists are not acedimicians who have the luxury of theoretical postulation and research formats. If they make statements disclosing sources people are often injured or killed. They deal in the real world or terrorism and warfare; not political pontification.

    If you don’t think social and political Islam is pursuing a course of expansism you need to get out of your Ivory Tower. I’ve seen first hand the death and destruction of terrorist during my tour of duty in Germany.

    I strongly question your credintials to criticize Mr. Gawthrop.

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  3. I suggest people read the whole Quran and several biographies of Muhammad before making a judgment about Islam as a religion. There is also the consideration as to whether practitioners of a religion obey everything literally or not. Most Muslims lead more peaceful lives than Muhammad did, and the vast majority of Christians are more violent than Jesus. I think what Mr. Gawthrop is saying is that those who follow the literal word of the Quran and the exact example of the Messenger’s life are going to abuse members of other religions (especially Jews). The Battle of the Trench was an example of beheadings and people being forced into slavery almost resembling the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Muhammad also sent an assassin after a poet who insulted him reminiscent of the violent reactions to the Danish cartoons. Islam inherently has a violent aspect, because its founder fought in battles. It is not as violent as the Aztec religion was, or the Thuggae, or the religion of Bhaal in Carthage, but it has requirements that conflict with US society and values.

  4. [...] concerning is the fact that the author if this course was an FBI analyst (plus a whole lot [...]

  5. [...] Wired drew attention to a trainer named William Gawthrop, and to a presentation which correlated Muslim devoutness with violence. I discussed Gawthrop’s limitations and misuse of sources here. [...]

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