Political correctness does not dictate how the FBI trains its counter-terror agents, bureau Director Robert Mueller said during a sometimes testy congressional hearing Wednesday.
A recent purge of FBI training documents came because some of the materials that were being used relied on inaccurate information or stereotypes linking Muslims to terrorism, Mueller told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Several committee members raised concerns that the bureau was sacrificing national security for politically correct considerations, citing the overhaul of the counter-terror training curriculum as a source of particular worry.
Mueller provided few details as to what standards were used to determine which documents would be scrapped. He refused to identify the outside Islamic experts the bureau relied on to judge whether training materials accurately reflected Islamic beliefs and Muslim behaviors.
“I can say absolutely and with certainty that political correctness played no role in the efforts I undertook to make certain that we will give the best training to our personnel,” Mueller said.
“It does us no good to have personnel who are trained with inadequate materials or misguided materials. Political correctness had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Mueller’s assurances did not satisfy Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who repeatedly and unsuccessfully pressed for the identities of the outside experts and an explanation of how their backgrounds were vetted.
The FBI and other federal agencies such as the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have long histories of dealing with groups and individuals with links to terror organizations in the name of community outreach, Gohmert said.
Last February, Mueller met with the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which was tied to the terror groups Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in federal court documents, specifically to discuss progress on the training issue, Gohmert noted.
“They’ve got a track record of choosing the wrong people to embrace and help them in their outreach program,” Gohmert said of federal counter-terrorism officials. “We still don’t know who the subject matter experts are. We still don’t know exactly what material has been purged.”
The training issue erupted last September amid media reports that some presentations used by the FBI were deemed offensive or inaccurate, including one that asserted devout Muslims are more likely to commit acts of terror.
Mueller ordered a review of the FBI training documents to ensure they did not include material that was inaccurate, relied or stereotypes or was unclear. To set the standards for that review, Mueller appointed a five-member committee that included two bureau personnel and three outsiders – called subject matter experts or SMEs.
But so far the FBI refuses to say anything about the outside experts. On Wednesday, Mueller suggested to the committee that they are government employees from other agencies, describing them as “persons with substantial credentials,” who were enlisted to put together standards for what should be taught to FBI agents.
An FBI spokesman did not respond to attempts to clarify Mueller’s testimony after the hearing.
A total of 160,000 documents and about 1,000 training videos that have been used since the September 2001 terrorist attacks were reviewed by the FBI, Mueller said. Of those, 876 documents were removed after being found inappropriate, he said.
Those documents have been made available to members of Congress, along with explanations of why they were found to be objectionable, Mueller said. They have not been released publicly.
Regarding his meeting with ISNA’s president in February, Mueller said he meets frequently with Muslim-American groups as part of his community outreach efforts. The briefings he gave in February were not different than those given publicly to Congress or other organizations, he said.
Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner’s special reporting team.