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Watchdog: Accountability

Newly released docs show inconsistencies in FBI training manual censorship

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Implying the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization or that al Qaeda had links to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were enough to have documents purged from FBI training manuals, according to newly released agency documents.

Other training materials that were scrubbed from the counter-terror curriculum were deemed to be inaccurate, inappropriate stereotypes of Muslims or unsuitable "in the current political context," according to the hundreds of pages of memos and other documents posted by the non-partisan government watchdog group Judicial Watch.

The FBI began overhauling its training materials in 2011 after media reports that some presentations were deemed offensive or inaccurate. Under pressure from a variety of Islamic-American groups, FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered the complete review of training materials, which resulted in 876 documents being removed or revised. In all, the agency reviewed 163,446 pages in almost 5,000 different presentations that were being used to train agents.

Deciding whether the material was inappropriate was left to five "subject matter experts," or SMEs, two from within the FBI and three outsiders with expertise in Islamic history and culture.

The training documents themselves were not released, nor were the identities of the SMEs. However, the records in most cases do include comments the SMEs.

Among their reasons for scrapping various documents:

• "Article is highly inflammatory and inaccurately argues the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization."

• "Page 15 inaccurately states that AQ (al Qaeda) is responsible for the bombing of Khobar towers and that AQ is 'clearly linked' to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

• "The overall tenor of the presentation is too informal in the current political context."

• "The Qur'an is not the teachings of the Prophet, but the revealed word of God."

• "Remove references to mosques specifically as a radicalization incubator."

That sampling of the SME comments shows the FBI is more interested in political correctness than ensuring counter-terror agents are properly trained, said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a vocal critic of the review.

Making matters worse, the FBI refuses to reveal any information about the SMEs and apparently did not allow for any discussion or appeal once their edicts were issued, Gohmert said.

"They are looking at these presentations from a political standpoint instead of from an educational standpoint," he said. "If you removed all of these items, what is left to teach our FBI agents, our intelligence people, about radical Islam? We have blinded ourselves of our ability to see our enemies."

An FBI spokesman declined to comment.

There are indications that some offices tried to argue against removing certain training material. One memo from the Phoenix office in December 2011 includes a three-page response to the order to remove an entire training document dealing with "Salafi Ideology - Fundamentalism and Extremism."

The office's entire response was redacted by the FBI before the document was turned over to Judicial Watch.

Most of the SME comments were short and non-descriptive, such as that a particular document contained factual errors or was outdated. Since the training documents themselves were not released, there is no way to put the SME assessments into context.

Overall, about half of the pages removed from training material were deleted because they "lacked precision," according to an agency report. Those documents could still be used in training courses after they are revised.

About 269 pages were deemed to use inappropriate stereotypes of religious or ethnic groups, 84 pages were found to be in "poor taste," and 82 had factual errors, according to agency records.

While the Muslim Brotherhood is not on the U.S. State Department's list of international terrorist organizations, some of its offshoots, including the Palestinian group Hamas, are.

FBI and Justice Department officials, including Mueller, have described the Muslim Brotherhood as a group that supports terrorism.

Al Qaeda's involvement in the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993 and Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia three years later are unclear. The commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found "signs that al Qaeda played some role, as yet unknown," in the Khobar bombing which killed 19 Americans and wounded 372.

The 9/11 commission also found links between al Qaeda and the first World Trade Center bombing, but concluded evidence of a direct connection was "at best cloudy."

The documents posted by Judicial Watch can be found here.

Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com.

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