Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins Raise Concerns about “Anti-Terror” Training

“Preliminary inquiries by our staffs suggest that improper training may not be limited to mere isolated occurrences”

From the website of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs:

WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday sought information to ensure that federal funds for counterterrorism training are not being wasted on programs that could undermine the national effort to deter homegrown terrorism.

The Senators, in a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, asked what guidelines and standards counterterrorism training must meet and what qualifications counterterrorism trainers must possess.

Anecdotal evidence suggesting that some local law enforcement officers are being trained by people who are unqualified or provide inaccurate—even inflammatory—information led the Senators to ask how the two departments oversee federal grants for counterterrorism training.

From the letter itself:

Dear Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder:

We are writing to you about your efforts to ensure that federal funds are promoting accurate and effective counterterrorism training for state and local law enforcement and homeland security officials, in the wake of recent reports that some counterterrorism training provided to state and local law enforcement has been inaccurate and even inflammatory.

…[W]e are concerned with recent reports that state and local law enforcement agencies are being trained by individuals who not only do not understand the ideology of violent Islamist extremism but also cast aspersions on a wide swath of ordinary Americans merely because of their religious affiliation. Media reports cite some of these self-appointed counterterrorism training experts as engaging in vitriolic diatribes and making assertions such as Islam is a highly violent radical religion” and that if someone has “different spellings of a name… That’s probable cause to take them in”[1] These comments, of course, are neither factually accurate nor consistent with our nation’s fundamental values and are not made by adequately trained personnel. It appears, however, that some of these so-called experts have neither the academic nor operational background in the material about which they train.

Preliminary inquiries by our staffs suggest that improper training may not be limited to mere isolated occurrences. We are concerned that at best, the quality of training is inconsistent, and at worst, is actually detrimental to our efforts to confront homegrown terrorism. Muslim Americans are central allies in our fight against violent Islamist extremism, and any training that implies otherwise is both inaccurate and counterproductive to our shared goals…

The footnote references an article on the subject which was recently published in the Washington Monthly, and which I blogged on here and here. The subject has also received attention from the Washington Post and in a report from Political Research Associates.

UPDATE: The Washington Times gets the view from the gravy train:

The senators cited recent news reports of “self-appointed counterterrorism training experts as engaging in vitriolic diatribes and making assertions such as “Islam is a highly violent, radical religion.”

“But Islam demonstrably is a violent religion,” said Robert Spencer… “Not every Muslim is violent, but the religion teaches and encourages violence against non-Muslims.”

Mr. Spencer says he has taken part in counterterrorism training for U.S. military and intelligence agencies and the FBI, but not state and local police. He told The Washington Times he was concerned the senators’ inquiry could lead to “politically correct guidelines to stop people teaching the truth about Islam, especially from the Obama administration.”

…Walid Phares, another counterterrorism consultant who has helped train state and local police forces, told The Times that organized Islamic extremists were “trying to confuse the public by mixing criticism of unprofessional training with criticism of the best strategic analysis available in the United States.”

He said he supported the senators’ work.

The Times also reports on the DHS’s response:

The Department of Homeland Security, in a statement released Tuesday evening, said the agency understands the senators’ concerns.

All DHS grant recipients providing training to state and local law enforcement partners “are expected to reflect the same professionalism and courtesy that is expected of all DHS and DHS component personnel,” according to the statement.

That statement does not appear to have been posted to the DHS website, nor has it been published anywhere else.