More on Poor-Quality Counter Terrorism Training at the FBI

Wired has published a follow-up to its July report on poor quality “counter-terrorism” training at the FBI:

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

…What’s more, the Islamic “insurgency” is all-encompassing and insidious. In addition to outright combat, its “techniques” include “immigration” and “law suits.” So if a Muslim wishes to become an American or sues the FBI for harassment, it’s all just part of the jihad.

The report in particular mentions one William Gawthrop; I discussed his limitations and misuse of sources here. Wired notes that before he started work with the FBI, he

had recently stepped down from a position with the Defense Department’s Counterintelligence Field Activity. That agency came under withering criticism during the Bush administration for keeping a database about threats to military bases that included reports on peaceful antiwar protesters and dovish Church groups.

Gawthrop is a faculty member at American Military University, and he worked as an assistant intelligence analyst in Northern Iraq in 1991. His role there was to make assessments about military capabilities, rather than to opine on the nature of Islam.

On Twitter, others who have encountered Gawthrop have made comments. Brian Fishman, Counterterrorism Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, states:

In 2007, I saw Gawthrop present in Ankara to Turkish officers-a, um, step backward for US diplomacy.

Andrew Black, a former senior counterterrorism analyst who has worked “for a government contractor serving the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Department of Energy”, adds that:

Gawthrop led an IC / DOD working group in 2009 that was a major step back for planning efforts…was there c/o FBI

Meanwhile, the FBI has published a press release:

This particular training segment was conducted six months ago, one time only, at Quantico and was quickly discontinued. The instructor who conducted that training block no longer provides training on behalf of the FBI.

Policy changes have been underway to better ensure that all training is consistent with FBI standards. These changes will help develop appropriate training content for new agent training and continuing education for all employees, as well as introduce a consultative element from experts outside the FBI.

Will McCants, a former State CT advisor and an academic expert on Islamic extremism, adds on Twitter that:

2 be fair, FBI also invites lots good scholars of Islam 2 teach

Gawthrop will be speaking at the Ninth Conference of the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association in October – I blogged critically on the ICTOA here.

Improper counter-terrorism training is a subject that has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year: a critical article appeared in the Washington Post  last 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. A report by the progressive Political Research Associates also appeared in the spring, while the summer saw critical pieces on CNN and NPR, as well as Wired‘s first report.

Lieberman and Collins have also now expressed concern once again, writing to John Brennan (Obama’s Homeland Security assistant) on the subject:

An initial review by our staff revealed that agencies providing grants to state and local law enforcement lack meaningful standards for their counterterrorism curriculum and an adequate vetting process for individual trainers. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security’s review of training curriculum is performed by an outside contractor, rather than by the Department, and the Department refused to disclose the participants of the third-party curriculum review panels when asked by our staff in a request for voluntary production of the information.

In addition, state and local law enforcement often have little or no guidance from the federal government on what counterterrorism training should entail. The result has been cases of trainers spewing inaccurate or even bigoted information to state and local law enforcement personnel, stigmatizing Muslim-Americans generally, and in effect, lending support to the false narrative that we are “at war” with Islam. As we have stated in previous letters to this Administration, we have serious concerns that improper training may not be isolated occurrences and could be detrimental to our efforts to confront homegrown terrorism. Since Muslim-Americans are our main allies in the fight against violent Islamist extremism domestically, any training that implies otherwise is both inaccurate and counterproductive.

Agencies themselves must carefully vet and control the training curricula. If the Administration cannot develop criteria for training quickly, then we will consider drafting a legislative mandate or even imposing standards by statute.