A bipartisan House Homeland Security report is full of hair-raising facts but has one item of encouragement: Three-fourths of foreign fighters arrested in the U.S. were caught due to confidential informants close to them. In many and probably most cases, these informants are Muslims.
"More than 75 percent of U.S. foreign-fighter arrest cases involved a confidential source, informant, family member, or concerned community member who cooperated with or tipped off authorities. In other words, private citizens have been key to detecting aspiring travelers," the report says.
If you read a criminal complaint of a foreign fighter suspect, you'll probably see transcripts of conversations recorded by the confidential informant. Islamist extremists will only incriminate themselves to their innermost, infidel-free circle. In other words, many confidential informants—if not most—are Muslims.
In some cases, the motivation is an unselfish desire to stop the aspiring terrorist's plans. In others, it may be a concerned family member or friend. And for some, there may be a selfish desire like money or a hope that cooperation with law enforcement will decrease punishment for the informant’s own offenses. But the bottom line is that these Muslims have reconciled their faith with reporting on Islamist terrorists for the U.S. government.
Islamist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are waging a campaign against the use of informants, claiming that the U.S. government is purposely framing and radicalizing Muslims as part of a "made-up" War on Terrorism. In one case, a CAIR chapter went so far as to put up a poster explicitly telling Muslims not to talk to the FBI.
The impact that this can have can be seen in the story of Mahmoud Omar, a Muslim from Egypt who acted as an informant for the FBI in order to foil the Fort Dix terror plot. He isn't a hero on the speaking circuit at CAIR events and booked for interviews to combat anti-Muslim stereotypes. Instead, he no longer goes to mosque because he is seen as a backstabber to the community.
"For Muslims, we are all brothers, and I betrayed a brother," Omar said. He explained that the Muslims in his community believe the plotters are innocent.
When asked about the various hardships he's faced since helping stop an Islamist terror plot (including complaints about how the U.S. government has treated him), he answered: "If I [knew] this would happen to me, to my wife, to my kids, I would say, 'No, put me in jail. . . . Let somebody else do it. It's not my problem.' "
This statistic also reinforces the importance of public engagement. Citizens need to be taught about how reliant our counter-terrorism agencies are on them. There is a commonplace assumption that the agencies' powers are so broad that they must be aware if someone posts something radical online. That dangerous perception promotes complacency and must be fixed.
It is just as important that average citizens are taught what to specifically look for and how to report it. Vague slogans like the Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" campaign aren't going to cut it.
Information provided by—and risks taken by—citizens including Muslims has played a tremendous role in keeping the U.S. safe. And Americans should be taught how to play an active part in this success without political correctness and while honoring the civil liberties we hold dear.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.