John Brennan’s Counterterrorism Vision vs. American Muslim Reality
John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security adviser, is probably the foremost advocate of the proposition that domestic counterterrorism efforts will fail if they don’t treat American Muslims as partners. That attitude informed the National Security Strategy’s pledge to “clearly communicate our policies and intentions, listening to local concerns, tailoring policies to address regional concerns, and making clear that our diversity is part of our strength — not a source of division or insecurity.” In a speech last month, Brennan pointed to the diversity of America as an example of why al-Qaeda is doomed to fail, especially as the U.S. faces a maturing threat from domestic radicalization. “They can seek to recruit people already living among us, but it is our choice to subject entire communities to suspicion,” he said, “or to support those communities in reaching the disaffected before they turn to violence.”
There’s just one problem. American Muslims simply don’t see Brennan’s perspective informing FBI and other law enforcement interactions with them.
“At the principal level, there’s a recognition of the need to respect our constitutional rights,” said Farhana Khera, the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights group, “but what we see in the ground, by the agencies, is not the same reality.”
Khera is in town to testify this afternoon to a House Judiciary subcommittee. Along with other civil rights groups, her intention at the hearing is to raise awareness of the rise of racial and religious profiling among law enforcement. Muslim Advocates has collected stories from American Muslim communities about patterns of harassment: surprise visits at home and at work from FBI agents who don’t ask questions tied to evident criminal investigations. “They’re about religious practices, political views, involvement in community organizations,” Khera said. At border crossings and customs checkpoints, Department of Homeland Security agents ask about “what mosque you pray in, how often you pray, opinions on the Iraq war, thing that have nothing to do with international travel.”
That’s consistent with intelligence gathering — giving rise to suspicions that the FBI is treating American Muslim communities as an intelligence target. Khera’s prepared testimony to the House Judiciary subcommittee calls the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Operations Guide a blueprint for “unprecedented, massive data gathering”:
This type of data collection is based on perceived characteristics and activities of racial and ethnic communities, not individualized suspicion of criminal activity. The DIOGs allow for this racial and ethnic information to be mapped, heightening the concern that this information will be used by law enforcement agencies to unlawfully target innocent Muslim Americans for further investigative activities.
“It’s a real concern,” Khera said. “In the America I grew up in, your religious practices were your own personal business. The government is encroaching on longstanding values of our country.” And — if you believe John Brennan — that’s a counterterrorism liability.