FBI representatives met once again with Muslim and Arab-American leaders at Bureau headquarters on Monday to update them on the progress they have made to rid their counterterrorism training programs of anti-Muslim material.
One participant described the meeting, organized by FBI’s Community Relations Division, as “lengthy and positive.”
“They have concrete plans in place, and if they do move forward with them and they do set out and do what they said they’ll do, it will be a positive,” Abed Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee told TPM of the meeting. “They are listening to the community’s concerns, they understand the points raised by community groups.”
FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement that the FBI “understands the importance of having strong relationships with Muslim and Arab-American communities and invests significant time and energy in developing and maintaining those relationships.”
When it comes to the counterterrorism training issue, the Bureau “has reached out to community advocates and leadership to provide background on how these events came to pass and the corrective actions that are being taken,” Allen said. “This has taken place in Washington DC and in field offices around the country. The meeting you reference is just one example.”
One topic that wasn’t addressed at the meeting on Monday but is sure to come up in the future is the allegation that the FBI used the guise of community outreach to gather information on some Arab-American leaders. The FBI has said that the material in question is comprised of internal reports which are separate and distinct from investigative files.
But the American Civil Liberties Union, which revealed the materials the FBI collected in the course of its outreach efforts, is pushing back.
“The concerns we had with using community outreach as a guise for intelligence collection doesn’t change if it’s a guise for criminal investigation or any other kind of investigation,” the ACLU’s Mike German, a former FBI agent, told TPM. “The concern is that there’s a deception and a breach of the good will involved in community outreach. It basically undermines the whole purpose of community outreach and betrays the trust.”
German said that it is difficult to tell if many of the memos they received through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are investigative or just internal reports, but said many of the memos were directed at investigative units of the Bureau.
“It’s clear that people attending community outreach events — their discussions, who they’re sitting next to and what they’re saying — is being documented,” German said.