WASHINGTON – A veteran national-security specialist disputes FBI Director James Comey’s contention that restrictions on information-gathering are the main hindrance to uncovering ISIS conspiracies in the U.S.
Clare Lopez, who served in the CIA for 20 years and is senior vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy, said the problem isn’t with working-level FBI agents, who know the jihadi threat is “nurtured” in mosques. The hindrance is from “higher-level” FBI management and the national security leadership, she insisted.
She said the FBI for too long has allowed itself “to be influenced by operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates whose objective is to neuter U.S. national security defenses.”
Lopez was responding to Comey’s recent comment that restrictions on information-gathering stemming from intelligence leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have created barriers for law enforcement and the intelligence community.
Comey made the comment as he revealed the FBI has opened cases in 49 U.S. states of people suspected of having ties to ISIS.
Lopez said that when someone such as Michael Steinbach, an assistant director for the FBI Counterterrorism Division, publicly complains that he cannot fathom the recruitment appeal of ISIS or understand why parents in the U.S. encourage their children to join ISIS, “then, America, we have a problem.”
“That means the FBI’s top [counter-terrorism] official has no idea how to identify and stop that ISIS recruitment process before more young Muslims answer the call to jihad,” Lopez said.
She noted, however, that Steinbach was one of the FBI’s key figures in the “Great Purge” of 2011-2012 when, “at the urging of its Muslim Brotherhood advisers, the FBI literally purged hundreds of pages of training curriculum that used to educate agents about how Islamic doctrine, law and scripture inspire Islamic terrorism.”
The FBI, she said, “banished the instructors whose knowledge of these things was deemed so threatening by the Brotherhood.”
Lopez said the move was an illustration of the Muslim Brotherhood strategy – outlined in a document entered into evidence in a terrorism trial – to destroy the Western civilization from within, by their hands.”
That means, Lopez said, “We’re going to be induced to destroy ourselves.”
Lopez also referred to a document published by a combined team of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the FBI on how to make mosques off-limits to law enforcement.
She pointed out that Islam’s founder, Muhammad, had established mosques with “command and control centers” for the Muslim community’s earliest jihad wars.
Despite that history, she said U.S. troops nonetheless “were shocked” when they were first fired upon from within mosques and when they entered mosques in Iraq and Afghanistan and discovered weapons caches.
Similar concern over the potential of violence emanating from mosques in the U.S. was outlined in a Middle East Quarterly article. It raised concerns regarding the extent American Muslims, native-born a well as naturalized, are being radicalized by Islamists.
The article showed how modern jihadists legitimize their violent actions by relying on the same textual works as their nonviolent Salafist counterparts.
Lopez said the 2011 study of mosques in the U.S. found that some 80 percent promote jihad violence and that the more Shariah-compliant the mosque is, the more likely it will be to promote jihad.
“And you’re still wondering if the FBI is going to be aggressive in infiltrating mosques and Islamic centers?” Lopez asked.
“Unless our law enforcement professionals are permitted to understand the indicators and warnings that signal development of an Islamic jihad threat, in advance,” she said, “the FBI will be desperately scrambling to keep up with an ever-expanding pool of potential jihad recruits.”
She identified the threats as passport-carrying American citizens, immigrants with residence status, or documented refugees, some of whom have returned from ISIS battlefields in Iraq and Syria.
She pointed out that al-Qaida and ISIS have issued calls for individual jihad, meaning Islamic terror at home and unconnected in any formal way to a group on the Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
She said law enforcement officials need to understand how Muslims can become radicalized without ever joining al-Qaida, ISIS or any other group on the FTO list.
“How can the FBI or any national security agency even begin to understand this process when they are forbidden even to use the words ‘Islamic terror’ or ‘jihad?’” she asked.
She referred to many examples of individual jihadists who were not associated with any organizations or groups on the FTO list but undertook serious violent actions in the name of jihad.
The examples of individual jihadists include Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 service personnel at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009; Carlos Bledsoe, who in June 2009 murdered Amy Long at the Little Rock, Arkansas, Army recruitment center; and the Tsarnaev brothers, who learned how to make pressure cooker bombs by reading al-Qaida’s Inspire magazine and then exploded two at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.
“The common identifier for these individual jihadists was their deep Islamic faith and decision to answer the call to jihad,” she said. “The other common marker was that law enforcement had no clue these Muslims were on a pathway to violent jihad, despite all the associations, all the indicators and all the warnings.
“So yes, there will certainly be more individual jihad attacks, and it is likely they will choose soft targets, as they did in Paris and Brussels and Sydney,” Lopez said.
“And without the official knowledge or training or authority to identify and stop such jihadis in advance, our front line of homeland defense increasingly becomes ourselves.”