Two members of Congress want the General Services Administration (GSA) to explain what research, if any, was done before signing a $582,000 lease with a Virginia mosque that law enforcement officials say has been the subject of numerous terror-financing investigations.
The letters to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Susan Collins follow an Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) story disclosing the 2008 lease for a Census Bureau office, and the law enforcement assessments of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center.
Records from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by the IPT indicate the mosque was "operating as a front for Hamas operatives in U.S.," and "has been linked to numerous individuals linked to terrorism financing."
Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote that he was concerned "there are insufficient procedures in place to vet potential contract partners." It would be "evidence of an alarming inter-agency communication failure" if the law enforcement reports about Dar Al-Hijrah were not available to GSA officials. If it is available, and GSA simply didn't check, "there may be an even more problematic systemic issue."
Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked whether GSA checks out prospective landlords to determine whether they have "engaged in prohibited conduct related to terrorism or other unlawful activities."
The Washington Post reported on the letters Thursday. The story cited the initial IPT report as an impetus for the Issa and Collins inquiries. "The web site's report was based on brief, intragovernmental messages about the mosque," the story said, omitting details about the law enforcement assessments.
The story did quote two sources disparaging the IPT report. Census spokesman Steven Jost told the newspaper "We're not happy with the optics being portrayed by this web site." Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, Dar Al-Hijrah outreach director, said it was wrong "that certain individuals who are against Muslims would impugn the character of the mosque when we haven't been found guilty of any crime."
The IPT was not asked to respond and the Post chose not to tell readers what the TECS reports said. Editor Linda Robinson explained that the records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, were "not terribly useful, frankly," because they were brief summaries and the author's identity was not known.
"I don't know who wrote them," she said. "I don't know anything about them."
Issa included details about the records in his letter to the GSA administrator:
"The DHS maintains the Traveler Enforcement Compliance System (TECS), a database and case management application populated by reports from border and law enforcement agencies. The searchable TECS database allows investigators to quickly identify individuals and entities with derogatory background information.
The Dar Al-Hijrah Center is described in one TECS report as having been 'under numerous investigations for financing and [providing] aid and comfort to bad [organizations] and members.' In another TECS report, Dar Al-Hijrah is described as 'a mosque operating as a front for Hamas operatives in [the] U.S.'
Even the most cursory review using publicly available research tools would have raised red flags when GSA considered entering into a lease with Dar Al-Hijrah."