Naïve Napolitano: DHS Underestimates Muslim Resistance to Countering Domestic Terrorism

On Wednesday, Pajamas Media reported that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her senior staff privately met in Washington, D.C., to begin a controversial information sharing program with Muslim organizations -- including three directly linked with the extremist entity the Muslim Brotherhood.

While there is controversy over the wisdom of sharing information with extremist organizations, there is also evidence that Secretary Napolitano may have underestimated the resistance she would encounter from the organizations for her new “counter-radicalization” program.

Secretary Napolitano spent an hour and a half briefing the organizations, informing them of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) counter-radicalization program and exploring ways to mutually share information. Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs attended the briefings held on January 27 and 28. The organizations are scheduled to meet regularly with DHS senior aides and with Napolitano.

Publicly, most Muslim and Arab organizations have said they oppose rising militancy and radicalization within their communities. But privately, they seem to harbor distrust of law enforcement agencies and believe profiling, not radicalization, is the primary problem in the United States.

The organizations meeting with Napolitano included the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an unindicted co-conspirator in a 2007 federal terror funding case. Also present were the leaders of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Muslim American Society. All are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered the ideological foundation for Islamic terror groups.

Matthew Chandler, deputy press secretary and spokesman for Secretary Napolitano, refused to comment on the meetings or identify the groups that attended the two-day sessions. Pajamas Media learned the identities of a number of the participants and interviewed them.

Part of the impetus for the DHS two-day meeting seems to be the Christmas bombing attempt. Secretary Napolitano has been involved in a number of controversies since her appointment, including her comment that “the system worked” when the Christmas Day bomber got on board an international flight. She was ridiculed for the comment.

Shortly after the Christmas bombing incident, the Transportation Security Administration issued a new watch list that toughened scrutiny of passengers who traveled from countries that sponsor state terrorism. Many radical Muslim and civil rights organizations issued vigorous protests over the new regulations.

The Department of Homeland Security invited many of these organizations to meet with Napolitano for the first time after those protests. Most Muslim organizations believed that the meeting was in response to their complaints.

Amardeep Singh was a direct participant in the meetings with the secretary and her senior aides. Singh is the co-founder of the moderate civil rights group, The Sikh Coalition. In an interview with PJM, Singh said:

We were sort of taken aback because the participants weren’t given an agenda of the meeting for either day, and when we got there it had become clear that the agenda of the meeting was really to rally the groups to support the administration’s efforts with regard to domestic counter violent radicalization. ... It was a bit disappointing that our first meeting with the high level leadership of the DHS discussed that particular subject [counter-radicalization] as opposed to those of concern for civil rights organizations, which was of discrimination. ... I was highly disturbed.

Others were skeptical of the government’s motive in holding the meeting. Dr. Mohammed Sahloul, chairman of the Muslim Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and a meeting participant, told PJM:

The meeting, I believe, was the result of media pressure on government officials to "do something."

Imad Hamad of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said the main issue was avoided by DHS:

The core issue was the new TSA regulations at the airport for people residing in 14 countries and affecting 750 million Muslims.

Louay Safi of ISNA told PJM his organization was somewhat resistant to Napolitano's plea to counter homegrown domestic violence. The real issue, he said, was profiling, not domestic Muslim violence:

The participants were very keen to make sure that the secretary was aware of the work of many Muslim organizations to confront issues of radicalization. ... But we feel [counter-radicalization] is counterproductive and doesn’t help because really it’s not addressing profiling.

Throughout the meeting DHS seemed oblivious to the hostility from the group. Singh said:

[DHS staff] continued with this domestic counter-radicalization discussion. ... It was clearly her [Napolitano’s] agenda. And the groups, about three-quarters of the time, pushed back, saying "you really have to deal with this discrimination issue.”

Another problem was that the Department of Justice had invited a Jewish group to brief the Muslim audience on operational security and information sharing programs. This apparently did not sit well with the attendees, although they admitted it was very informative. “The model was pretty good,” said Dr. Sahloul. “It helped us to understand how we could provide security,” he told Pajamas Media.

There is some evidence that the meeting had been rushed. The meeting was held on only the second day on the job for Margo Schlanger, who leads the new Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Many of the radical groups, including those who have extremist ties, publicly embrace counter-radicalization programs. One of the reasons, congressional sources said, is that there is a possibility the Obama administration may award large government grants to the Muslim groups if they join the new program.

Nevertheless, while many Muslim groups have preached moderation and anti-radicalization in public, privately they seemed reluctant to rally to the administration’s side:

“In some cases there certainly were people expressing in private conversation a sort of outrage that this [counter-radicalization] is even a topic of discussion. It was weighed to be very premature,” said Singh. “To be honest everyone was taken aback.”

Reactions from anti-terrorist authorities also were negative. Some felt it demonstrated the administration was naïve. U.S. House Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), a member of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that while she felt countering radicalization was a worthy goal, the administration was clueless:

It is clear government agencies and officials do not get it.

Steve Emerson, an anti-terrorism expert and the founder of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, told PJM:

I’m not sure she [Napolitano] understands what the Muslim Brotherhood is. It’s the parent of al-Qaeda and all terrorist groups, confirmed by all the intelligence chiefs.

A former intelligence officer for the U.S. government told PJM:

The fact that the government reaches out to these groups, more than any other factor, shows you how broken our intelligence apparatus is.