Secret briefings by the FBI about its purge of counter-terror training documents and the identities of the outside experts who helped direct it have only heightened the concerns by some members of Congress that the agency is trading national security for political correctness.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that when she reviewed the documents that had been removed from the bureau’s training program, she was observed by three to four FBI agents, the only other people in the room.
When Bachmann took notes, the agent sitting behind her would also write in his notebook, apparently keeping tabs on what she showed an interest in, she said.
While the Minnesota representative is barred by the FBI’s confidentiality agreement from revealing what she saw in the documents, she said the briefings she received “raise even more alarm bells“ that the agency is going too far to appease Muslim-American groups.
“This is truly censorship by our government, the government purging itself of documents,” Bachmann said. “We are not only seeing documents purged. We are seeing trainers purged and we are seeing the FBI library purged.”
The FBI began reviewing all of its counter-terror training materials last September in response to media reports describing controversial statements in documents and lectures, allegedly including the assertion that devout Muslims are more likely to become terrorists.
Islamic and Arab-American groups protested and demanded removal of all references they deemed to be anti-Islamic. Within days, the bureau launched a review to ensure all FBI training materials are factual and do not rely on stereotypes.
To lead its review, the bureau created a five-member advisory panel that includes three outside Islamic experts, whose identities the agency will not disclose publicly.
After six months, almost 900 pages of documents were removed from the curriculum. Those are the materials members of Congress have been reviewing, but cannot discuss.
Some, including Bachmann, have also been told the identities of the outside Islamic experts, but are prohibited from naming them publicly or describing anything about their backgrounds.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has reviewed the purged documents and briefed on the three Islamic experts, echoed Bachmann’s assertion that legitimate training information has been scrapped by the agency.
“I am shocked at the material that has been removed, that they thought was offensive or problematic, and remain concerned,” said Gohmert, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“We’ve got material being removed more because of political correctness than in the interest of truth and properly educated justice officials. We are blinding our enforcement officers from the ability to see who the enemy actually is,” he said.
Gohmert and other Republicans on the judiciary committee grilled FBI Director Robert Mueller last month, asking if the bureau had gone too far to appease Muslim groups as it rewrote its training program.
“Political correctness had nothing to do with it,” Mueller insisted during the committee hearing. “I can say absolutely and with certainty that political correctness played no role in the efforts that I undertook to make certain that we give the best training to our personnel.”
In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from The Washington Examiner, the FBI declined to name the three outside Islamic experts or provide any other information about them or their backgrounds.
Disclosing their names would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” that is not outweighed by the public’s interest, the agency told the Examiner. A separate request for the purged training documents is still pending.
The FBI’s claim of privacy for the three Islamic experts is ludicrous, said Chris Farrell, director of research at Judicial Watch, a non-partisan government watchdog group that is seeking the same documents.
Bureau officials acknowledge the Islamic experts played a critical role in revising its training program, yet they downplay any public interest in finding out who those people are, Farrell said.
“If we are going to radically alter their agent training at the behest of a sort of secret group that they won’t disclose, that’s a pretty substantial, pretty novel event,” said Farrell, whose organization has successfully sued the FBI over public documents on multiple occasions.
“Who knows what those changes are? They do it in secret. That runs counter to basic accountability,” he said.
FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said the bureau has not been overly secretive. Legislators can raise any concerns with the agency’s congressional liaison, Allen said.
He also said there are legitimate reasons why the outside Islamic experts who aided the FBI would not want their names released, he said.
“You wouldn’t want that if you were one of them,” he said. “There is no secrecy here.”
Mark Flatten is a member of the Examiner's special reporting team.