Language Deemed Offensive Is Removed From F.B.I. Training Materials

The New York Times on March 28, 2012 released the following:


WASHINGTON — Training material used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation said agents had the “ability to bend or suspend the law and impinge on freedoms of others,” but that language has now been removed, according to a briefing the bureau recently provided to Congress.

The language suggesting that agents could bend the law was contained in 876 pages of training materials about Muslims and Arab-Americans the F.B.I. deemed to be offensive or inaccurate and removed after a review of about 160,000 pages of such material over the past six months, according to aides present at the briefing.

Also removed was the admonition that agents should never stare at or shake hands with an Asian, and the assertion that Arabs had “Jekyll and Hyde” personalities making them more likely to have “outbursts and loss of control” than even-keeled Westerners.

A description of some of the material deemed inappropriate was contained in a letter sent on Tuesday by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, to the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III. The letter was first reported by Wired magazine, which last year published similar leaked training materials that prompted the F.B.I.’s broader review.

Michael Kortan, a spokesman for the F.B.I., confirmed the removal of the language suggesting “the ability to bend or suspend the law,” which he described as “inartful.” But — pointing to a set of talking points that apparently accompanied the material — he said the trainers meant that under normal circumstances, agents have the ability to eavesdrop legally on private communications if they obtain wiretap orders from a court.

“I cannot emphasize enough that we disagree with the implication that training attendees, who were analysts, were led to believe that we actually bend or suspend the law or anything like that,” Mr. Kortan said.

In his letter, Mr. Durbin called on Mr. Mueller to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with copies of the full set of documents and to reassign those officials responsible for the offensive material. “It is unclear that the F.B.I. has taken sufficient steps to undo the damage done by the offensive training materials,” Mr. Durbin said.

Mr. Durbin also wrote that Mr. Mueller told him in December that the F.B.I.’s “training review would identify F.B.I. agents who receive inappropriate training.” In a briefing last Thursday provided to Senate staff members, F.B.I. officials said they had not identified the agents who had seen the materials, according to the letter.

“If the F.B.I. does not identify agents who received inaccurate information and take steps to retrain them, there is a real risk that agents will be operating on false assumptions about Arab-Americans and American Muslims,” Mr. Durbin wrote. “This could harm counterterrorism efforts by leading F.B.I. agents to target individuals based on their religion or ethnicity, rather than suspicion of wrongdoing.”

Last week, the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. posted short memorandums about “guiding principles” for the training materials. The documents said that such materials must be “consistent with the Constitution” and agency values, including by not disparaging groups or individuals based on characteristics like race, religion or national origin.

The memorandums also say that supervisors must assess trainers for professionalism and make sure that they are knowledgeable experts in the topic, and that they should review written materials being used for instruction.

In his letter, Mr. Durbin questioned whether issuing those memorandums constituted sufficient reforms, noting that the action fell short of creating a new curriculum on the topic.

After Wired published its account of F.B.I. counterterrorism materials last year, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. testified before Congress that the documents undermined the government’s “substantial outreach efforts that we have made and really have a negative impact on our ability to communicate effectively.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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