FBI Removes “All Training Materials Related to Religion and Culture” for Vetting

NPR has a follow-up to Wired‘s recent reports on problems with FBI training on the subject of Islam:

NPR has learned the FBI did two things to at least stem the damage the training controversy has wrought. Just last week, the bureau sent out an email requesting that all training materials that related to religion and culture be sent to headquarters and essentially taken offline until they could be vetted. Officials plan to go through each and every training module and look for instances of bias or inaccuracies that, until now, might have slipped through the cracks. The FBI has also asked all 56 of its field offices to do an internal scrub of all their counterterrorism training to look for hints of possible bias. The recall suggests that the FBI is not entirely sure what it is teaching in its counterterrorism curriculum.

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.

A scholar named Steve Lundry discusses some of the consequences of poor-quality training at  the COMOPS Journal:

Not only did this story spread through US media, but it spread to extremists sites where it was touted as evidence that the US was actually at war with Islam; Gawthrop’s ideas are consistent with Islamist extremists’ narrative. It plays directly into the hands of Islamist extremists the world over, and bolsters their message that America’s desire to end Islamist terrorism is really a war on the religion of Islam itself.

…In Southeast Asia, Islamist extremists have picked up the story about Gawthrop and spread it, including on social media cites such as Facebook. Posted Wednesday, September 21, the ar Rahmah story on Gawthrop’s lecture had nearly 3000 hits by Thursday afternoon, and the link was recommended by 811 people on Facebook. On their Facebook posting of the same story, it was “liked” by 101 people, and 30 comments. Comments range from the hope that non-believers will find one day find Islam to agreeing that this is proof that the United States is at war with Islam. Some of these comments include violent rhetoric. 

NPR also reports that the FBI is conducting an “internal audit” to discover why poor-quality training was allowed to occur; apparently, “the counterterrorism training division has a lot of autonomy” and “the vetting process for the counterterrorism curriculum was minimal.”

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.