NPR has another story that underscores the urgency of the government investigating the charlatans posing as "terrorism experts" who are indoctrinating law enforcement with Islamophobic paranoia. After a "training session" in which a local Columbus, Omar al-Omari, was identified as someone with ties to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and even al-Qaida," because he was photographed alongside members of the Council on American-Islamic relations, Omari lost his job fostering outreach between the Muslim community and law enforcement.
Omari was singled out at a three-day seminar for local police and law enforcement in the Columbus area last April. The class was part of a larger nationwide initiative to help local law enforcement not just understand terrorism, but perhaps find ways to stop it. The Obama administration has set aside millions of dollars to fund these training programs, and, not surprisingly, that money has helped create an industry in which self-styled terrorism experts contract themselves out to local police departments as terrorism tutors.
There is no certification process to vet the experts. They simply present their resumes and, often through word of mouth, they get hired. The trainers tend to be former government officials. Sometimes they have had key roles in the federal government fighting terrorism. Just as often, they have not. There's growing evidence that many of these training sessions are providing officers at the grass roots with a biased view of Muslims in America. That is what appears to have happened to Omari.
This is by no means an isolated incident--CNN looked into the suspect background of "Walid Shoebat" last week, months after Hussein Ibish pointed out that he appears to have embellished his background. Shoebat has been paid thousands for sharing his "expertise" on terrorism, through lectures that largely involve smearing all American Muslims as potential terrorists. Washington Monthly published an investigation months ago showing that the U.S. could be shelling out untold amounts of taxpayer dollars to Islamophobic hucksters in the form of billions in grants for terrorism training programs. At best, these people are giving law enforcement a skewed and inaccurate view of Islam--at worse they're encouraging the government to squander its resources chasing Muslim Brotherhood phantoms while ignoring actual terrorist threats.
Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins* sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in March inquiring about what the feds were doing to exercise greater oversight over these training programs. Interestingly enough, DHS's reponse contradicts the NPR story, insisting that "the Department has robust standards to ensure counterterrorism training funded by DHS is taught by qualified instructors and based on the latest intelligence and most effective policing techniques--and we have rigorous compliance procedures in place to address training programs to meet these standards." DHS states that "in order to received DHS funds, counterterrorism training programs are required to meet course certification guidelines reviewed by an independent, third party panel" and that those evaluations are supported by "instructor audits, annual reviews, and periodic on-site assessments managed and conducted by FEMA."
NPR's report, and the anecdotal evidence, suggest otherwise -- and that to the extent this process exists, it often fails to catch unqualified fearmongers. A Senate staffer said that this was an area of "ongoing interest" to the committee, and the Government Accountability Office has agreed to look into the matter.
*edited: Lieberman is chair, Collins is ranking member.
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