The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued an open letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller last week calling for reform of Bureau training materials the ACLU claims are biased against Muslims. The ACLU letter cited a July article by Spencer Ackerman on WiredNews.com concerning training materials that, in part, allegedly depicted Muslims in a derogatory way. The FBI responded by saying it no longer used that particular training material, which was reported to be only a segment of an overall counter-terrorism presentation.
The ACLU letter also principally focused on an FBI Intelligence Assessment document dated May 10, 2006 on homegrown Islamic terrorist radicalization titled, "The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad," claiming the assessment portrays converts to Islam in America as targets for radicalization who should primarily and mostly be viewed as suspects.
The ACLU letter offers criticism of the FBI assessment by stating:
"For instance, a 2006 FBI Intelligence Assessment "The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad," which was published in May 2006 but restricted from public distribution until it was leaked on the internet sometime later, identifies a four-step "radicalization cycle" in which religious converts purportedly become "Homegrown Islamic extremists." According to this analysis, "indicators" of a convert's extremism include:
o Increased isolation from former life
o Wearing traditional Muslim attire
o Growing facial hair
o Frequent attendance at a mosque or a prayer group
o Travel to a Muslim country
o Increased activity in a pro-Muslim social group or political cause
Such innocuous behaviors may indicate strong religious beliefs, and each is entirely protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Millions of Muslim-Americans may engage in some or all of them on a routine basis. Claiming these behaviors are indicative of a progression toward extremist violence is therefore both factually unsupportable and improper under the law."
While the assessment lists the segments identified in the ACLU letter, the context given in the ACLU letter is notably skewed. It indicates the full sum of the FBI assessment focused on those listed "indicators" that, in and of themselves, could well be innocent constitutionally protected activities.
In fact, there are 14 total "indicators" in three separate categories, not the seven listed individually in the ACLU letter. Among the other seven in the assessment are:
- Association with new social identity
- Attendance at a training camp or participation in paramilitary training
- Conducting surveillance activities
- Travel without obvious source of funds
- Suspicious purchase of bomb making paraphernalia or weapons
- Large transfer of funds, from or to overseas
- Formation of operational cells
The three separate categories are "identification," "indoctrination" and "action." Taken in that more detailed context, these "indicators" are significantly more focused on the pertinent issue of jihadist radicalization.
The 12-page detailed FBI assessment repeatedly states that conversion to Islam does not always lead to radicalization. The assessment cites a series of steps a homegrown jihadist likely undergoes in the radicalization process, and notes that process is fluid and subject to significant external influence. The assessment offers its findings as a result of investigative case analysis and academic sources.
The FBI assessment is rooted in experience where the radicalization of American Muslim converts has real world consequences. A number of such cases have proven the FBI assessment correct:
Radicalized prison converts Kevin James and Levar Washington pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges in 2007 in a California plot to attack military recruitment centers, the Israeli consulate and Jewish synagogues. Two other codefendants were also convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
Daniel Patrick Boyd, a convert, led a group of seven terror suspects in North Carolina who became radicalized jihadists intent on launching attacks within the United States, according to federal charging documents. Boyd pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges in February, and his two sons followed suit while proceedings are wrapping up against the other defendants.
American Mohammad Zaki Amawi who became radicalized and was charged in Ohio with planning to commit violent attacks against Americans overseas, including U.S. troops in Iraq. Amawi became "more radical in his appearance, behavior and expression of his beliefs" after returning from an extended trip to Jordan in 2004, his sentencing memo said. Amawi was convicted in 2008.
American Carlos Bledsoe, aka Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, was sentenced to life in prison for the terrorist murder of two U.S. Army soldiers outside a Little Rock recruiting station in 2009. Bledsoe converted to Islam in 2003 shortly after enrolling at Tennessee State University. Bledsoe later traveled to Yemen, where it is believed his radicalization continued.
In contrast to what the ACLU states is the FBI's posture in its assessment, a chart on page four identifies a series of factors that may indicate a path toward radicalization among converts, and those factors mirror circumstances identified in the real world cases of radicalized American jihadists.
Among those factors, the assessment chart:
notes that being a "Jihad Believer" can be a motivation for conversion;
identifies the Internet and prison as places where opportunities for radicalization are presented;
lists receiving basic paramilitary training overseas as a key component to identifying radicalization;
identifies "increased vetting opportunities" for radicalization to include attending a jihadist training camp, conducting surveillance activity, and engaging in jihadist support finance; and
identifies a radicalized person engaging in extremist activity when they or she participates in jihadist recruitment, financing or other attack operations.
The FBI assessment was clear in its description of the radicalization process as being far more than mere innocent constitutionally protected religious and political activity, but rather, it noted such activities may be part of the process leading to the radicalization that results in jihadist terror. The ACLU letter, joined by several Islamist organizations including CAIR, MAS and ISNA, cherry picks elements from the assessment, takes them out of context and offers them for slanted criticism.