Newly declassified documents obtained by the Clarion Project show that personnel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI, or, for the ease of our readers,“National Intel”) were well aware of the work of anti-Islamist Muslim activist Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, acknowledged that he was promoting the right message, but chose instead to favor and work with pro-Islamist groups.
As our previous expose showed, when five members of Congress specifically asked National Intel about their relationship with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity, National Intel falsely told the congresspersons that it did not use Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups and individuals for outreach. However, files show that such a relationship existed.
And while National Intel embraced groups with radical histories, Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam, was shunned. This happened even though one of Jasser’s writings was passed around National Intel as an example of the type of messaging that was needed.
Praise for Dr. Jasser Within National Intel
In March of 2010, Dr. Jasser wrote an open letter to Anwar al-Awlaki, a high-level American member of Al-Qaeda who was later killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, in response to a 12-minute audio message al-Awlaki had directed at American Muslims. An internal email sent around National Intel in 2010 urged the email’s recipients to read Dr. Jasser’s letter and asked for recommendations on how to use the letter. The author of the email said the letter had “great things to think about regarding US Muslim perceptions of Aulaqi [Awlaki] and possible ways to counter him.”
Yet even though the author of the email saw the value of Jasser’s work, Jasser has not been embraced – or even tapped as a resource for National Intel — like Islamist apologists have been.
Jasser told the Clarion Project: “We have never been contacted by National Intel either directly or through any office. In fact, while AIFD was invited to a couple meetings at the public affairs office of the FBI in 2009, we have not had any outreach since that time formally with anyone at the Department of Justice, National Intel or Department of Homeland Security. This was despite the testimonies we provided at hearings for Chairman Peter King of the House Committee on Homeland Security in March 2011 and again in June 2012.”
National Intel’s behavior is puzzling. Why would it not embrace the very Muslim whose messaging it praises?
The Pro-Islamist Filter
The same email that praises Jasser also shows that National Intel caters to the sensibilities of the pro-Islamist groups that loathe him, and that the government organization has bought into the narrative these groups are promoting: “Not sure how credible he [Jasser] is even among mainstream observant engaged Muslims, especially since he’s former US military,” the email states.
As another example of Jasser’s lack of credibility, the author then points to how the ultra-radical “Revolution Muslim” group declared him an apostate.
This should be considered a badge of honor, but the National Intel writer saw it as a strike against Jasser.
In another email dismissing Jasser’s credibility, the author writes: “It’s probable that American citizenship by itself may hinder their delivery of counter-messages, but there are ways to overcome this, such as by linking them with credible foreign ‘moderate,’ ”
Further, since the Muslim Brotherhood is considered “moderate” by the Obama Administration and National Intel Clapper in particular, linkages to it are not disqualifiers. In fact, by the criteria mentioned in this email, support from the non-violent Islamist crowd is an accolade.
On February 10, 2011, Clapper said during congressional testimony that the Muslim Brotherhood is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has described Al-Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” His office then issued a clarification backtracking on his inaccurate statement that the Brotherhood is “secular.”
This discriminatory attitude towards Muslims that fall outside the Islamist-approved spectrum sets up a filter that leaves out important anti-Islamist activists like Jasser but accepts non-violent Islamists like ISNA.
Conference speakers named in the email all have radical track records. They included Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder; Zaid Shakir, an extremist who is the founder of Zaytuna College; Hamza Yusuf and Yasir Qadhi. Advertisements for the event also mentioned ISNA President Mohamed Magid; Imam Hassan Qazwini and Siraj Wahhaj.
The National Intel attendee made the time to listen and learn from these Islamist radicals, but didn’t make the time to contact Jasser even once.
Declassified internal National Intel documents obtained by Clarion also reveal another unsettling fact: National Intel is not ignorant. It is aware of the concern about its outreach partners and chooses to look the other way.
An email distributed between National Intel personnel included an article by Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under the Reagan Administration. Introducing the article to his or her colleagues, the writer from National Intel issues the following warning:
“The choice of which Muslim organizations to work for CVIE [Countering Violent Islamic Extremism] purposes…remains a political minefield, as the diatribe in the Washington Times below indicates.”
Amazingly, the email does not dispute the facts presented by Gaffney. On the contrary, it seems that the author concedes them. For example, he or she refers to the “checkered background[s]” of ISNA and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Yet, the use of the word “diatribe” shows how much respect was given to the point of the article.
Two other emails from within National Intel reflect concern about Nation Intel’s work with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). MPAC was founded by two Muslim Brotherhood members from Egypt, one of which was a self-described “close disciple” of the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna.
The track record of MPAC includes inflammatory rhetoric and pro-Islamist positions, such as opposing the designations of Hamas and Hezbollah as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Recently, however, MPAC celebrated the 2013 toppling of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, but MPAC’s history must be considered when listening to its more recent tone.
A June 10, 2010 email with the subject line of “MPAC” sent from within the National Counter-Terrorism Center states, “We have a large MB presence on the West Coast, and there has been some discussion here about engagement—both state and federal—with folks who are also MB Members.” (The part of the email offering examples of these organizations was redacted.)
Another internal email states that National Intel has not decided whether to work with a particular company because of “its relationship to MPAC given MPAC’s connection to the Muslim Brotherhood…”
Despite these privately expressed concerns, National Intel included MPAC (and ISNA) in a “Roundtable Discussion” on June 12, 2012 at the at National Intel’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia with National Intel head Clapper. Also present were National Counter-Terrorism Center Director Matthew Olson and Alexander Joel, ODNI Civil Liberties Protection Officer.
The email sent to MPAC and ISNA from National Intel inviting them to the roundtable discussion effused, “…we believe you have important insights to share with the Intelligence Community (IC) about how the IC pursues its mandate of providing the most insightful intelligence possible, while simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties and privacy.”
Impact on National Security From Embracing Islamists
When MPAC released its counter-terrorism study, Building Bridges to Strengthen America, National Intel was excited and receptive. Multiple emails were exchanged within National Intel to spread word of it. The office staff was invited to a MPAC briefing about it on April 8, 2010.
Then a two-hour meeting was arranged with MPAC’s Governmental Liaison on November 18, 2010.
Unfortunately, information about the Muslim Brotherhood in MPAC’s study is limited to this idea: “Conservative groups like the Muslim Brotherhood pose long-term strategic threats to violent extremists by siphoning Muslims away from violent radicalism into peaceful political activism.” [emphasis added]
The study also disputes the notion that the Brotherhood acts as a “conveyer belt” leading Islamists to engage in terrorism. Instead, MPAC presents the Brotherhood as a “conveyer belt” leading away from violence. The footnote for the sentence references an article titled, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood.”
On October 25, 2011, MPAC announced that Building Bridges was cited in the National Intel’s National Counter-Terrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security policy document, “Countering Violent Extremism: Guidance and Best Practices.” It was the sole non-governmental organization source.
Noticeably, the language used by MPAC study about the Brotherhood is similar to the language used by Clapper in his January 2012 testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
During that testimony, Clapper stated: “Al-Qaeda probably will find it difficult to compete for local support with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that participate in the political process, provide social services and advocate religious values. Non-violent, pro-democracy demonstrations challenge Al-Qaeda’s violent jihadist ideology and might yield increased political power for secular or moderate Islamist parties.”
When reading Clapper’s testimony, it’s easy to see the parallels between his opinion and those of the pro-Brotherhood groups that were advising his office.
MPAC also used its relationship with National Intel to complain about materials that it felt promoted “Islamophobia.”
For example, on July 11, 2012, MPAC’s Young Leaders Government Summit delegates met with National Intel and National Counter-Terrorism Center staff, including Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O’Sullivan, National Intel’s Civil Liberties Protection Officer Alexander Joel and Matthew Rice of the National Counter-Terrorism Center Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning.
At that meeting, MPAC’s delegates complained about National Intel’s counter-terrorism policy plan titled, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.”
The section they took issue with reads: “…communities—especially Muslim American communities whose children, families and neighbors are being targeted for recruitment by Al-Qaeda—are often best positioned to take the lead because they know their communities best.”
Virtually anyone reading this would view the statement as being pro-Muslim in nature. It states the factual problem — Al-Qaeda recruitment of Muslims — and says that Muslims are the solution. Further, it assumes that Muslims are also against Al Qaeda.
But for MPAC’s delegates, the mere acknowledgement that Al-Qaeda would like to recruit Muslim-Americans is offensive.
In a follow-up later on July 17, 2012, MPAC again criticized the policy plan because it “assumes that young American Muslims are susceptible to the threat” and that could cause their “marginalization.”
MPAC was also upset with a National Intel calendar that had photos of terrorists on it because it “disproportionately presented terrorists from Muslim majority countries. It also insinuated a problematic message: That only Muslims are terrorists.” The group warned of “unintended consequences” negatively affecting Muslims.
What’s striking about these National Intel emails is that, while Jasser’s messaging was privately acknowledged as the right one, National Intel instead chose to use groups with less than desirable track records and who have furthered the damaging myths and exaggerations that National Intel is now trying to counter.
This is a problem across the federal government. Groups like CAIR, ISNA and MPAC ferociously attack anti-Islamist Muslims like Jasser as traitors to their community. They are declared to be inauthentic Muslims and essentially apostates.
For example, the Department of Homeland Security training guidelines established in 2011 tells law enforcement not to use “trainers who are self-professed ‘Muslim reformers’ [because they] may further an interest group agenda instead of delivering generally accepted unbiased information.”
“Government agencies are letting the Islamist groups and their global propaganda machines determine who has ‘credibility,’ ” Jasser told the Clarion Project.
For National Intel and most parts of the U.S. government, Muslim reformers are out and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood organizations are in. Sadly, no one bothered to peruse a 2011 Gallup poll that found that only a small minority of Muslim-Americans feel these groups represent them.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.