A storm is brewing over changes the Obama administration has made to counter-terrorism training. In the fall the administration initiated a widespread review of training and trainers, which resulted in the blacklisting of many trainers, the censoring of training materials, and the requirement that all training and briefing slides now be subjected to an anonymous review process. To many it seems a backwards move. National security documents repeatedly stated the importance of training and preparedness for our military and law enforcement in order that they fully understand the nature of the enemy. This became a particularly hot issue following the Ft. Hood shooting, when U.S. officials openly acknowledged they had failed to connect the dots.
Now the question of counter-terrorism training is again hitting the national spotlight. Five members of Congress have written letters to five Inspectors General (Homeland Security, Department of State, ODNI, DoJ, and DoD) and to John Brennan, raising concern over individuals in key national security positions who “share their sympathy for Islamist causes in addition to sharing some of their associations with organizations that are advancing such agendas inside the United States.” The letters allege it is these individuals who, through their undue influence, have caused the changes to counter-terrorism training (and other aspects of CT policy and practice) and that these changes in fact weaken American national security rather than strengthen it. The members who signed the letters—Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney, and Lynn Westmoreland—have received heavy flak for their initiative. But they have also set something powerful in motion. Their letters have sparked widespread interest from media, policy experts, and the public. The Inspectors General will hopefully respond to the requests with investigations of their own, but the non-governmental experts now have an important role to play as well. It is in part they who must sort through the massive quantities of information, find connections, piece together the pieces, to determine whether the concerns expressed by the members have merit.
One of the best pieces to emerge early in this process is Patrick Poole’s article, “Pentagon Islamic Advisor Reappears as Political Leader for Syrian Muslim Brotherhood-Dominated Group.” Poole makes unarguably clear that at least one charge of the Congressional letters is clear: Muslim Brotherhood members have been inside the wire of America’s most important national security institutions. Poole focuses on the particular case of Louay Safi. Formerly an Islamic adviser and trainer for the US military and the FBI, and head of the organization which vetted Muslim chaplains for the military, Safi has found new prominence as a leader of the Syrian National Council, which looks to be on the verge of overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. According to Poole, not only is Safi prominent in the SNC but he is also a senior Muslim Brotherhood member.
Questions were raised about Safi after the Fort Hood attack, when it was revealed by Brooks Egerton in The Dallas Morning News that “Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan wasn’t the only one working on a Texas Army base the day of the shooting who had links to radical Islamists.” At the time of Hasan’s attack, which killed 13 and wounded 29, Louay Safi was a trainer on Islam for soldiers at Fort Bliss and was teaching a course entitled “Theology of Islam” at Fort Hood. The army, questioned by CBN News reporter Erick Stakelbeck, claimed to be unaware of Safi’s alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, and to “have had no issues or concerns over presentations.” However, by that time, there had in fact been several investigations involving Safi himself or of organizations in which he had a leadership role:
2002 – When Safi was Executive Director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), their offices were raided by the U.S. Customs Service of the Treasury Department in an investigation of a Muslim Brotherhood funding network.
2003 – A Senate hearing into the subject of terrorist penetration of the U.S. military and prison systems via the chaplain programs cited the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which Safi later headed, as being the main organization that endorsed Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military.
2005 – Safi was named unindicted co-conspirator No. 4 in the trial of Sami Al-Arian, leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
2007 – When Safi was serving as Executive Director of the ISNA Leadership Development Center, ISNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, the largest terrorism financing trial in U.S. history.
It is difficult to imagine how any vetting process carried out by the Department of Defense could have missed these investigations, or, having seen them, would not have been sufficiently alarmed not to engage him as a trainer and advisor. Thus the Army’s claim that they were unaware of Safi’s alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups reflected either profound incompetence or outright deceit. That they claimed to “have had no issues or concerns over presentations” was certainly untrue. A formal complaint was filed with Camber Corp., the organization which had the training subcontract, in 2009 regarding the content of Safi’s training materials and his behavior during trainings, which had aroused suspicion.
As another expert commented, Safi’s training, the slides for which are available here, clearly pegged him as an Islamist, because they presumed Islamic political rule as given. Ten years into the war on terror, is our military still incapable of connecting even these simplest of dots? One presumes and hopes not. Perhaps some force is exerting a pressure which requires those dots to be ignored. But not only did the Army ignore or fail to recognize Safi’s Islamist leanings, they also neglected to pay attention to the briefing itself, which is pure proselytizing. It presents the most basic information about Islam, as it would to someone it was trying to convert, with no effort whatsoever to train U.S. soldiers on what they really need to know and the purpose for which they are being trained–how to utilize Islamic traits and customs to further the American war effort.
In recent testimony before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano said, “We have increased our ability to analyze and distribute threat information at all levels. We have invested in training for local law enforcement and first responders of all types in order to increase expertise and capacity at the local level.” Given the long line of trainers who have been banned, one has to ask who are the trainers now being used? Since many of the American trainers have been disallowed from teaching on the grounds that their positions are offensive to Muslims. One has to ask to what extent are DHS, DoJ and DoD relying on trainers with loyalties which lie elsewhere? How many more can we expect, like Louay Safi, to show up leading revolutions in foreign countries, espousing policies that are inimical to the American principles of justice and equality under the law? How many more of our military, our law enforcement professionals, and our first responders are going to have to listen to lectures on “God’s Beautiful Names?” or to listen to such meaningless statements as: “A Muslim is a Christian who practices the Jewish law.”
In late June it was revealed that the FBI has investigated more that 100 suspected Islamic extremists within the military, which includes active and reserve military as well as individuals with access to military facilities. This clearly suggests that attackers motivated by Islamist ideology, and instructed by Islamist propaganda, remain a grave threat to American citizens. If we are to prepare our military and law enforcement professionals to protect the nation, their own families and themselves from this threat, we must do better than having people such as Louay Safi teach them the Shahada.