Muslims in the FBI Complain of Hurty-Feelings and Meany-Pants Things

FBI's Hoover Building. Photo by Erik Drost on Flickr.

So this is the latest scandal. It has nothing to do with Trump but Trump is to blame. Apparently, FBI analysts and support staff who are Muslims live in a climate of fear where they aren’t trusted.

Muslim special agents and intelligence analysts at the FBI are reporting a climate of fear inside the agency coinciding with the political ascendance of Donald Trump, the Guardian has learned.

FBI officials from Muslim-majority countries, a minority in a predominantly white bureau, say they are subject to an organizational culture of suspicion and hostility that leadership has done little to reform. At least one decorated intelligence analyst has been fired this year after a long ordeal which began with a routine foreign visit to see his family.

His case and others in which Muslim agents have reported a workplace culture that includes open-ended investigations predicated on their backgrounds were brought to the personal attention of the FBI’s director, James Comey, throughout 2016.

Muslim FBI officials are alarmed that their religion and national origin is sufficient for the bureau’s security division to treat them as a counterintelligence risk, a career-damaging obstacle that their native-born white FBI colleagues do not encounter.

They do not dispute a need to vet potential insider threats, but they bristle at what they consider selective enforcement and an inability for those caught in a process based on their heritage to escape suspicion.

Let’s dispose of one part of this quickly. The guy who was fired was investigated and ordered terminated before Trump was inaugurated though the firing didn’t happen until early February. On to the rest of the story.

Comey has publicly described the bureau’s overwhelming whiteness as a problem for the bureau. But in a communication acquired by the Guardian, the director nevertheless signaled that he sees merit in keeping foreign-born FBI officials under continuous scrutiny.

Comey wrote to a Muslim analyst on 20 October: “We need folks from your background and many others if we are to be effective. Of course, we must also discharge our duty to apply appropriate scrutiny when folks have significant foreign national contacts or contacts of concern with subject [sic] of criminal, counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism cases, by virtual of [sic] family friends or travel. I see that scrutiny applied in a whole lot of contexts, and none of it is based on religion, and it never should be.”

He added: “The challenge is figuring out what scrutiny is appropriate and how to talk to the employee about it.”

Muslims within the FBI say that their treatment is not only unfair but frays the bureau’s already shaky relationship with the US Muslim community. One recently ousted official believes his firing is a prelude to a wider “purge” of Muslims within the US national security apparatus.

Apparently, what the FBI has done is reinstitute a version of the same program that was in place during the Cold War for US citizens who had relatives in the East Bloc and particularly for people with security clearances who visited East Bloc nations. The reason was simple: you having relations in a hostile nation brings extra scrutiny and your travel to a hostile nation brings a lot more scrutiny. If you had a certain level of clearance you were not allowed to travel to certain nations and you could be required to fly only on US owned airlines when traveling overseas.

Given what we know about Islam and the international, transcultural appeal that the radical variety has shown, so long as we are engaged in a war against radical Islam any Muslim is a logical focus of heightened scrutiny. To pretend otherwise is to become Belgium or Germany.