CMD Opposes Anti-Muslim Intelligence Tools

The Center for Media and Democracy has signed onto a letter with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 26 other civil and human rights groups urging Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller to reform intelligence tools that express an anti-Muslim bias.

The letter addresses FBI intelligence guidelines for law enforcement that purport to identify when a religious convert becomes a "Homegrown Islamic Extremist," but the list of "indicators" are behaviors protected by the First Amendment. The FBI has publicly declared that "strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism," but these guidelines contradict that message.

The 2006 FBI Intelligence Assessment called "The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad" instructs law enforcement officials to pay special attention to alleged "indicators" of extremism, which the report claims include "wearing traditional Muslim attire," "growing facial hair," "frequent attendance at a mosque or a prayer group," "travel to a Muslim country," "increased activity in a pro-Muslim social group or political cause."

The letter explains why this approach is problematic: "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."

That report has negatively influenced counterterrorism policy. The New York Police Department modeled its 2007 "Radicalization in the West" report after the FBI Intelligence Assessment, but reinterpreted some of the radicalism "indicators" to include "becoming involved in social activism and community issues" and "giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip hop gangster clothes."

The letter goes on to argue that the currently prescribed counterterrorism tools drive "a wedge between the government and religious communities," which could prove to be very damaging to law enforcement efforts. According to Michael Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, "Many of our tips to uncover active terrorist plots in the United States have come from the Muslim community," so government policies that alienate peaceful Muslim-American communities are counterproductive.

The letter recommends that the 2006 report be withdrawn, and that the FBI issue "revised guidance clearly stating that religious practices and political advocacy are protected activities under the First Amendment, and are not indicators of future violence."

Other organizations signing onto the "transpartisan" letter besides the ACLU and CMD include non-partisan groups including groups from the political right, left, and middle, such as:

  • Muslim Public Affairs Council
  • Muslim Advocates
  • Brennan Center
  • Rights Working Group
  • Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Bill of Rights Defense Committee
  •, Inc.
  • Government Accountability Project
  • Defending Dissent Foundation
  • Rutherford Institute
  • Asian Law Caucus
  • Muslim Consultative Network
  • Human Rights First
  • South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
  • Islamic Society of North America
  • Muslim American Society
  • Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance
  • Women in Islam, Inc.
  • Jews Against Islamophobia
  • Women Against Islamophobia and Racism (WAIR)
  • Association of Muslim American Lawyers (AMAL)
  • Arab American Institute
  • Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility Program (C.L.E.A.R.) at CUNY School of Law
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations – New York Chapter