The Justice Department has a message for the Senators worried that federal funds are flowing to anti-Muslim training programs: no worries, we’ve got this thing.
TPM obtained a copy of a letter DOJ sent to Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins nearly six months after the lawmakers first asked for answers about biased counterterrorism training sessions being funded by taxpayers.
Basically there are two ways that federal dollars from the Justice Department could potentially fund biased training. First, there’s DOJ’s State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training (SLATT) program, which officials say they’ve got a pretty good handle on.
“DOJ staff review all SLATT instructors, curricula, and publications to ensure that content is accurate, relevant, and consistent with Department goals and objectives,” wrote Ronald Weich, DOJ’s congressional liaison. DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) even developed a Reference Guide for Islamic and Arabic Terms in June 2010 that was reviewed and vetted by members of the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities, Weich added.
SLATT programs, Weich wrote, “utilizes nationally recognized terrorism experts with relevant experience to develop and deliver effective training materials and programs,” and there’s an extensive review process in place.
It’s when you get into the grants that DOJ has issued to states and training providers that it starts to get a bit more complicated.
“It is the [State Administering Agency] and the service provider’s responsibility to determine how these funds will be distributed among local and state law enforcement agencies and how they will be used to vet potential instructors and ensure training content relevancy,” Weich writes. “While BJA provides guidance to the SAAs regarding how these funds should be used, it is ultimately up to the SAAs and service providers to select and award sub grantees.”
That doesn’t mean they’re not trying to do something about it. Weich said that BJA met with more than 100 training and technical assistance provider organizations to discuss “the maintenance of quality training materials, development of baseline protocols to ensure consistency, and collection of data to effectively evaluate efforts.”
Lieberman and Collins had been considering drafting legislation to ensure better standards for counterterrorism training. They said that the agencies providing grants to state and local law enforcement “lack meaningful standards for counter-terrorism curriculum and an adequate vetting process for individual trainers.”
Weich’s letter says that DOJ’s relationship with the Islamic and Arab-American communities are “critical to our counterterrorism efforts” and the Department’s Civil Rights Division holds interagency meetings on a regular basis with members of the Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian communities.
Their concerns over the anti-Muslim training material was discussed at their most recent meeting on June 2, he said.
“During these discussions, the Department provided information about its vetting procedures and a follow up meeting is currently being scheduled to discuss these and curricula review procedures in more detail,” Weich wrote.