WASHINGTON – Even as the FBI takes new heat over the
9-11 report’s revelation that it overlooked ties
between a Muslim cleric and two of the al-Qaida
hijackers, it is putting agents and new recruits
through a Muslim sensitivity program that includes
inviting Muslim clerics and leaders to preach about
the allegedly peaceful attributes of Islam.
National Arab-American and Muslim leaders have made
presentations at an FBI training course on civil
rights here, and at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va.,
as part of “Enrichment Training Sessions” for new
special agents there.
In addition, the imam of a large Manhattan mosque has
lectured veteran counterterrorism investigators at the
FBI’s New York field office about misinterpretation of
the meaning of jihad in the Koran, the sacred
book of Muslims.
The sensitivity training program, denounced by some
active and former agents, was mandated last year by
FBI Director Robert Mueller.
FBI headquarters defends the program as a way to reach
out to the Muslim community in America.
“I hate the word ‘sensitivity’ training,” said FBI
spokesman Ed Cogswell. “I would call it an awareness
training relative to cultural issues.”
Mueller, who also served in the previous Bush
administration, has met several times with Arab and
Muslim groups since the Sept. 11 attacks. He even
agreed to be the keynote speaker at last year’s
American Muslim Council conference here – a move that
drew fire from AMC critics, who note the group has
sung the praises of Islamic terrorist groups,
including Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Mueller should lead the FBI in this war, and leave
the sensitivity sessions to the human resources
department or CNN,” complained retired FBI special
agent Don Lavey, who served 20 years in the bureau’s
“Let’s just hope the director is leading the charge in
this war against terrorism with an equal amount of
zeal that he shows for cultural sensitivities,” added
Lavey, who claims Mueller is so politically correct he
refuses to use “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same
Last October, the FBI invited the head of an
influential Arab-American advocacy group to speak to
about 400 new agents in the auditorium of the FBI
Academy. The lecture by Dr. Ziad Asali, president of
the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was
mandatory and lasted about one hour.
Asali, a Palestinian refugee, “talked about how
peaceful their religion is, and how not to offend
Muslims … showing respect for their culture, things
like that,” said FBI Academy spokesman Kirk Crawford.
And at least four times this year, the FBI’s New York
field office has held all-day sensitivity training
sessions, not far from Ground Zero, featuring Imam
Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Masjid al-Farah mosque.
Speaking for about two hours each session, “he gave an
overview of Islamic culture and some of the
differences between what fundamentalist terrorist
groups say are the teachings of the Koran and what he
believes, as a student of religion, the Koran actually
says,” said special agent James Margolin, spokesman
for the FBI New York office.
Rauf asserted that the Koran “certainly doesn’t
counsel terrorism, murder or mayhem,” Margolin said.
And he said terrorists have misinterpreted the Koranic
term jihad to mean violent, or armed, struggle
against nonbelievers. Rauf claims it means internal
The rest of the training sessions were conducted by a
Muslim FBI agent born in Pakistan. Foria Younis, who
works for the Joint Terrorism Task Force, advised
fellow agents to respect Muslims by honoring their
religious and cultural customs.
For instance, she said they should refrain from
showing a Muslim the soles of their shoes, which is a
sign of disrespect, Margolin says.
“I learned at that session that if you cross your legs
and show the sole of your shoe to a Muslim person
during a conversation, that is an offense. It’s a sign
of disrespect,” he said.
Some former colleagues of the late FBI agent John
O’Neill say the legendary al-Qaida hunter would
probably roll over in his grave if he knew about the
Muslim sensitivity program required at his old New
York office, where he headed counterterrorism
operations last decade.
“This would not have been an issue high on his
priority list,” said Ivian Smith, a retired FBI
manager who worked in counterintelligence at bureau
“He would not have been interested in improving the
cultural awareness of a bunch of FBI agents. He would
have considered it a waste of time,” Smith said. “And
knowing John, he would have probably figured out a way
to avoid going to the meetings.”
“He was no-nonsense,” he added, “brutally focused on
Still, Smith allows that the cultural training could
be beneficial to investigators if designed to help
agents improve their field interviewing and
interrogation techniques to gain the cooperation of
Muslim witnesses and suspects.
Margolin says that’s certainly one of the goals of the
For example, he notes, agents also are taught to
respect the dietary restrictions of devout Muslims.
So-called halal dietary laws require their meat
be butchered in a certain way. Also, they cannot eat
pork or pork byproducts.
“So if you’re attempting to be accommodating to a
religious Muslim you’re interviewing or someone you
may have arrested, and you say, ‘Gee, I’ll run across
the street and get you something to eat; you know, you
haven’t eaten in six hours,’ you don’t get them a
cheeseburger – and you definitely don’t get them a
bacon cheeseburger,” Margolin said.
“That would be taken as an offense, when in fact what
you’re trying to do is maybe open some channels of
communication,” he added.
The same concerns apply to showing a Muslim witness or
suspect the sole of you shoe, he says.
But Lavey insists the program’s main objective is
political: Mollifying vocal Arab-American and Muslim
He says Mueller is so worried about offending American
Muslims that he’s loath to even describe the most
serious terrorist threat against America as “Islamic.”
“There’s a continued reluctance on the part of the
entire FBI to ever use Islamic and terrorism in the
same sentence,” he said.
Indeed, a search of transcripts of Mueller’s
congressional testimonies and public speeches turns up
no examples of him using the phrase “Islamic
terrorism” or “Islamic terrorists,” although he has
used the phrase “militant Islamic groups.” He
typically describes terrorism in generic terms, such
as “international terrorism.”
Margolin of the New York office also avoided using
the term “Islamic terrorists,” opting instead for
“fundamentalist terrorist groups,” in a lengthy
interview with WorldNetDaily.
Though bureau spokesman Cogswell admits political
correctness “can get out of hand” in Washington, he
insists there’s no bureau-wide “edict” against
describing terrorism or terrorists as “Islamic.”
Lavey and others fear Muslim leaders are teaching FBI
agents the PC, sanitized version of the Koran in the
interest of mainstreaming Islam. The message agents
are hearing is that Muslim terrorists have
misinterpreted the Koran, and that devout Muslims in
America don’t sympathize with them, even though the
Koran is replete with instructions exhorting the
Muslim faithful to fight, even slay, the “unbelievers”
in the cause of Allah. Unbelievers include Christians
If agents go into investigations with the assumption
that American Muslims don’t believe what al-Qaida
terrorists believe and don’t sympathize with their
cause, they may be easily snowed by Muslim suspects,
witnesses and informants, Lavey and others argue.
Agents may also be less inclined to investigate Muslim
clerics and scholars themselves, even though some
preaching in this country have been tied to Islamic
For example, the 900-page report on 9-11 intelligence
failures released last week took the FBI to task for
failing to pursue leads back to a local imam involved
with two of the al-Qaida hijackers who helped crash an
American Airlines jumbo jet into the Pentagon.
Khalid Almidhhar and Nawaf Alhazmi were close to the
imam, Anwar Awlaki. He and the hijackers moved from
San Diego to Falls Church, Va., where they joined the
Dar al-Hijrah mosque. A phone number for the mosque
was found in the German apartment of Ramzi Binalshibh,
roommate of hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Margolin, for his part, says he’s inclined to accept
the New York imam’s interpretation of the Koran, even
though he admits he hasn’t read any of it himself.
“I haven’t read the text,” he said. “But even in
Judaism and Christianity, there are portions of the
Old and New Testament that are open to interpretation,
and people who are politically left or politically
right use the Bible as the authority for their
And besides, he adds, the bureau’s job is to
investigate criminal acts of violence that have been
committed, not instructions for violence that may or
may not be directed by a religion against those who do
not believe in that religion.
“While what the Koran actually says is not
insignificant, what we’re ultimately concerned with is
criminality,” Margolin said.
Kevin Donovan, director of the FBI’s New York office,
is overseeing the Islam lecture series, mandatory for
the city’s 1,100 agents.
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