The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is not "an appropriate liaison partner" for the FBI because of evidence linking the organization and its founders to Hamas, an FBI assistant director said in a letter to a U.S. Senator.
"In light of that evidence, the FBI suspended all formal contacts between CAIR and the FBI," Richard C. Powers, an assistant director in the FBI's office of Congressional Affairs, wrote in a letter to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
Today, the FBI is unsure whether the relationship between CAIR and Hamas ever was severed, Powers wrote.
In February, Kyl was joined by fellow senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) in writing FBI Director Robert Mueller to praise the FBI's policy toward CAIR. The senators said they believed it "should be government-wide policy," and asked whether there were exceptions to it and whether it applied to field offices as well as FBI headquarters.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism was the first to report on the FBI's decision to break communication with CAIR. That story cited an Oct. 8, 2008 letter from the head of the FBI's Oklahoma City field office, who canceled a meeting of local Muslim community groups because of CAIR's involvement.
"[I]f CAIR wishes to pursue an outreach relationship with the FBI, certain issues must be addressed to the satisfaction of the FBI. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be addressed at the local level and must be addressed by the CAIR National Office in Washington, D.C.," the letter said.
Evidence from the Hamas-support trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) placed CAIR founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad in a group called the Palestine Committee. Internal documents show the committee was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to advance the Hamas cause politically and financially in the United States.
Ahmad and Awad are listed in a telephone list of committee members. Both men participated in a secret 1993 meeting of Hamas members and supporters. It was called in the wake of U.S. led peace efforts that led to the Oslo Accords. Participants in the meeting discussed ways to "derail" those efforts without being cast as terror supporters. They also discussed creating a new political organization to help the cause. Awad and Ahmad founded CAIR the following summer.
Internal Palestine Committee document show CAIR immediately was listed on a Palestine Committee agenda alongside other groups that had been part of the committee since its inception.
CAIR officials have cast the freeze as a residual policy of the Bush Administration and have largely ignored the evidence linking the organization to the Palestine Committee. In interviews, they claim that the FBI has never identified what the issues that prompted them to lose their access.
In his April 28 letter to Kyl, Powers made it clear that the HLF evidence was at the heart of the FBI's decision to break off communication with CAIR:
"During that trial, evidence was introduced that demonstrated a relationship among CAIR, individual CAIR founders (including its current President Emeritus and its Executive Director) and the Palestine Committee. Evidence was also introduced that demonstrated a relationship between the Palestine Committee and HAMAS, which was designated as a terrorist organization in 1995. In light of that evidence the FBI has suspended all formal contacts between CAIR and the FBI.
The FBI's decision to suspend formal contacts was not intended to reflect a wholesale judgment of the organization and its entire membership. Nevertheless, until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner." [Emphasis added]
The move was not meant "to reflect a wholesale judgment of" CAIR or all of its members, Powers wrote, reinforcing the emphasis on CAIR's national leadership.
Kyl questioned Mueller about the policy during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 25. In their exchange, Mueller indicated there were investigations into Muslim Brotherhood activity in the U.S. He also said that, in outreach activities, "we certainly search our indices to make certain that when we meet with individuals, that they're not under investigation and that we can appropriately maintain liaison relationships with them."
Mueller was reluctant to speak in specifics, as the follow exchange shows:
MUELLER: We will generally have -- individuals may have some maybe leaders in the community who we have no reason to believe whatsoever are involved in terrorism, but may be affiliated, in some way, shape or form, with an institution about which there is some concern, and which we have to work out a separate arrangement.
We have to be sensitive to both the individuals, as well as the organization, and try to resolve the issues that may prevent us from working with a particular organization.
KYL: Even though you've said you prefer not to talk about specific organizations in this hearing, I guess the question still remains whether the information that we received that this particular organization was no longer one with which you were having a direct relationship -- is that information incorrect?
MUELLER: I think what I'd prefer to do, if I could, is provide that letter to you where I can be more precise in terms of...
KYL: All right, that's fair enough.
MUELLER: ... and have some opportunity to review exactly specifically what I say.
With Powers' letter, it seems the FBI's cards are on the table. CAIR can try to show where its leaders broke with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, or perhaps purge its leadership. Otherwise, the FBI would have a difficult time justifying any reversal in policy.
*Updated 7 p.m.
In what appears to be a coincidence, CAIR announced the retirement of founder and Chairman Emeritus Omar Ahmad Thursday afternoon. No reason was given for the move.
Click here to see the FBI response and here to see the letter from Kyl, Schumer and Coburn.