Obama, Eric Holder, cartoons and Lady Gaga are among the 'inappropriate' images purged from FBI counter-terror training
A photo of President Obama in a turban and cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that led to terrorist plots against the Danish newspaper that published them are among documents purged from FBI counter-terrorism training materials, new disclosures from the agency show.
The documents deemed unfit for inclusion in FBI classrooms range from slides showing verses in the Quran favored by terrorists to a video called “God Hates Lady Gaga” produced by a fundamentalist church best known for its intrusive anti-gay protests at veterans' funerals.
Entire sections dealing with Middle Eastern history, Islamic culture and techniques for interviewing Muslims while being mindful of Islamic customs were removed.
So was a reference to Attorney General Eric Holder's inability to define radicalism in a 2010 congressional hearing. The reason for that deletion was redacted.
The FBI began scrubbing its training materials in October 2011 after media reports that some of the presentations were deemed offensive or inaccurate.
Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered the review under pressure from several Islamic-American groups. It was completed in March 2012.
Critics say the effort was driven by political correctness and made America more vulnerable by limiting the training FBI counter-terror agents receive to avoid offending Muslims.
"If you are going to be able to survive an enemy that wants to kill you and destroy your country, then you have got to know and understand your enemy," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a longtime critic of the FBI document purge.
"When you are in a war to save your country, your way of life, your liberty, then you need to know everything you can about those who are trying to destroy you," he said.
"For the first time I am aware of in our nation’s history, we are refusing to take a good look at who wants to destroy us," Gohmert said.
Almost 700 pages that were discarded by the FBI were released to the Washington Examiner in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in April 2012.
The disclosure provided no accounting of whether all removed materials were released or an explanation of why individual presentations were deemed unacceptable.
The Examiner compared the new documents to records released in May by the nonprofit watchdog group Judicial Watch, which obtained them through FOIA.
Those records included explanations of why individual pages were considered unacceptable, but not the actual pages themselves.
The Judicial Watch records make reference to about 475 separate document numbers that include purged materials. The agency disclosures to the Examiner list only about a third of those files.
However, since many pages are duplicated in multiple presentations, it is not clear how many documents were not released.
Gohmert, who previously reviewed the FBI files, said he believes large numbers of documents were not released to the Examiner.
The FBI refuses to release information about the Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, who reviewed the training documents and decided which presentations had to be removed.
FBI spokesman Christopher Allen refused to be interviewed for this story. He said in a written statement that the purged materials generally were inaccurate, imprecise or used stereotypes.
“As for the specific slides, viewed individually without the rest of the presentation or the presenter’s notes, it is difficult to determine the specific context in which the slide was presented,” Allen said.
“Although the FBI will not discuss specific slides, we can say that many of these slides were part of presentations that were never delivered, or delivered one time to a small audience,” he said.
The Obama photo was taken in 2006 during a visit to Kenya when he was a U.S. senator. During the visit, Obama was dressed in the traditional turban and robes of a local elder.
The photo fueled false accusations from some Obama critics that he is a Muslim, and created a dust-up in the 2008 Democratic primary when Obama aides accused Hillary Clinton's campaign of spreading the falsehood to the media.
No explanation is given for its deletion in the SME assessment other than the photo “is in poor taste and must be removed.”
The Danish cartoons appeared in multiple presentations on suicide bombers in a section labeled, “How things can inflame a situation.”
The cartoons depict Muhammad and were published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten as a criticism of self-censorship in the media.
The cartoons sparked violent protests across the Middle East that led to more than 200 deaths. Muslims consider it blasphemous to create Images of Muhammad.
Last year, four men were convicted in a Danish court of plotting a terrorist attack against the newspaper as revenge for the cartoons. Two men with alleged al Qaeda connections also were convicted for a separate plot in Norway.
The only explanation for purging the cartoons given in the SME assessment is that all of the Images are “inappropriate.”
Some of the deleted pages made assertions that the SMEs considered inaccurate. While many of the supposed factual errors concerned ancient Middle Eastern and Islamic history, others dealt with modern-day terror attacks.
Several slides were removed because they linked al Qaeda to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people.
The 9/11 Commission, which conducted the definitive investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, found links between al Qaeda and the first World Trade Center bombing, but concluded evidence of direct involvement was "at best cloudy."
The mastermind of the 1993 bombing, Ramzi Yousef, is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief al Qaeda planner in the 2001 attacks.
The commission found Mohammed aided Yousef in the 1993 bombing and the two discussed future operations, which included the synchronized bombing of multiple aircraft.
The FBI's own website suggests a connection between al Qaeda and the 1993 bombing.
"The attack turned out to be something of a deadly dress rehearsal for 9/11; with the help of Yousef’s uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda would later return to realize Yousef’s nightmarish vision," the page on the bureau's official history states.
Some of the slides removed by the SMEs were deemed in poor taste because they were too graphic or conveyed the wrong message.
One, under the label “Guaranteed Truth,” showed Images of a person being waterboarded, a drug syringe, an attack dog and an electric cord. At the bottom is the phrase “Psychological interviewing.”
The SMEs said the slide appeared to endorse torture.
The Lady Gaga video was produced by the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. A second video popular on the Internet, "Terrorist Bloopers," was also removed. In both cases, the SMEs stated they were “unsure of the training context.”
Muslims were not the only group spared offense in the document purge. One slide presentation about domestic terrorism suggested white supremacist groups target veterans and law enforcement for recruitment.
That slide was removed because it “can be highly inflammatory within the U.S. veteran population,” according to the SMEs.
Lawrence Likar, a retired FBI supervisory special agent who now teaches about terrorism at La Roche College in Pennsylvania, said information in many of the purged documents is both offensive to some Muslims and important for counter-terror agents to know. It is up to the instructor to ensure the information is conveyed in a way that does not lead the agents to develop biases about Muslims, he said.
Without knowing how the slides were used, it’s difficult to say whether they are appropriate, said Likar, who reviewed several presentations and SME assessments for the Examiner.
The audience also is important, he said. Some of the documents are inappropriate for his college students, but valid training tools for FBI counter-terror agents.
“They don’t give rise to me that somehow the investigators handling terrorism matters, that this would somehow give them information that would cause them to have pre-conceptions and biases,” said Likar, who worked terrorism and violent crimes cases at the FBI. “They are older. They are more experienced and in most cases they are able to handle that kind of material and not become unduly prejudiced.”