Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze reported in Washington Monthly on the "self-styled experts" who have rushed into the void due to the lack of trained counterterrorism instructors and benefited from the tremendous amount of money and lack of universal oversight of such programs. The result is local law enforcement in some cases receiving training that is subpar at best, and dangerously misleading at worst.
A separate recent report from Political Research Associates (PRA) found that $1.67 billion in federal funds went to states in 2010 for the purpose of counter-terrorism training and that there was little oversight of the content of the training sessions. The report found there were "inadequate mechanisms to ensure quality and consistency in terrorism preparedness training provided by private vendors; public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of the terror threat through highly politicized seminars, industry conferences, trade publications, and electronic media."
"In place of sound skills training and intelligence briefings, a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry markets conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam -- a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents -- as inherently violent and even terroristic," according to the report.
One of the offices that gives out federal funds for some counterterrorism training is the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). In an interview with TPM at his office in D.C. last week, COPS director Bernard Melekian said that the mechanisms for screening how the federal funds being sent to local police vary from office to office.
"I would imagine -- and I don't know this -- that there's going to be a review of exactly how instructors and curriculum are [vetted]. When I read that article, I was concerned about it. I would imagine there's going to be a review," Melekian said.
COPS is responsible for just a small part of the federal funds that go towards counterterrorism training sessions. Most of the training dollars that COPS dishes out for training purposes is routed through Regional Community Policing Institutes, Melekian said. The COPS office emphasizes the benefits that a community policing approach has for to counterterrorism efforts.
Melekian, who was the police chief for the City of Pasadena, Calif. for over 13 years before he was appointed to the COPS office by President Barack Obama in 2009, said that maintaining a close working relationship with Muslim communities was important in order for the U.S. to combat terrorism.
"Quite frankly, my role model was Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County, who probably more than anyone else, recognized that if not handled properly we could conceivably have recreated the experience of Japanese-Americans all over again," Melekian said of Baca, who was the Democratic witness at Peter King's Muslim radicalization hearing last week.
"To say that an American community -- the entire community -- is responsible for the actions of a select few, I find if it wasn't so frightening it would be ridiculous," Melekian said.
He said that from what he's seen, a close relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim community can pay off.
"The only al-Qaeda cell that I know of for example in Southern California was rolled up behind the Torrance Police Department's investigation into a series of gas station robberies," Melekian said.
But training that emphasizes partnership, respect and communication with the Muslim community doesn't appear to be the type of training that some local beat cops are getting. The Washington Monthly story centers on Sam Kharoba, who fell into counterterrorism teaching in 2002 when a Community Oriented Policing Services Program in Louisiana invited him to speak even though he "had no professional experience in law enforcement, no academic training in terrorism or national security, and is not himself a Muslim."
Like Ramon Montijo, a counterterrorism trainer mentioned in a Washington Post story who claimed that most Muslims "want to make this world Islamic" and have an Islamic flag fly over the White House, the counterterrorism trainers interviewed for the Washington Monthly story see a "total, civilizational war -- a conflict against Islam that involves everyone, without distinction between combatant and noncombatant, law enforcement and military."
The PRA report specifically looks at International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA), Security Solutions International, LLC (SSI) and The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre) and says that trainers "identify a range of constitutionally-protected activities, including religious practices and free speech, as the most dangerous threat."
One of the speakers at SSI's 2010 convention, according to the PRA report, was David Gaubatz, the man who had his son grow a beard and infiltrate the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He claimed in his SSI speech that "CAIR is a terrorist organization" (a claim that seems to have been adopted by at least one member of Congress). Another trainer, ICTOA's Walid Shoebat, suggests Islam is the fake religion of the "anti-Christ" and implies that Muslims bear the "Mark of the Beast" in various YouTube videos according to the PRA report.
The authors of the Washington Monthly story suggest that "a first step would be for the federal government to issue voluntary guidelines on how states can best reform their oversight of counterterrorism training."