Friday, July 22, 2011

John Guandolo: Another Counterterrorism Expert Exposed

PRA’s groundbreaking exposé of how tax dollars fund anti-Muslim trainings for police and counterterrorism personnel won the attention of news outlets and policy makers at its release this spring. We’ve been keeping the pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to stop funding flawed and bigoted training courses and in the last week our efforts have gotten a boost from CNN and National Public Radio.

NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, one of the first to report on PRA's findings, broadcast a “Morning Edition” story this week about a counterterrorism training in Ohio that smeared a Jordanian-American professor with accusations of links to terrorism. NPR reports that the professor had worked with the Department of Homeland Security on a highly effective outreach program to the Muslim community. The only “evidence” the trainer, former FBI agent and ex- Marine John Guandolo, gave NPR for singling out the professor was a photograph of the man with members of a Muslim-American civil rights organization.

John Guandolo is a 1989 graduate of the Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps until 1996, when he joined the FBI Washington Field Office. In 2009, he left the FBI after having a sexual affair with a key witness in the corruption trial of former Congressman William Jefferson. Guandolo is currently Vice President for Strategic Planning and Execution at Strategic Engagement Group, Inc. (SEG), a consulting firm specializing in “unconstrained analysis in defense of America.” SEG offers trainings for law enforcement on the Islamic threat in America; options of varying lengths ranging from 1 day to 3 days, 1 week and 2 weeks – with each session advancing in detail.

SEG’s specialty – so-called “unconstrained analysis” – draws on a catch phrase that has cropped up in Islamophobic parlance. “Unconstrained analysis” functions as shorthand for analysis that is not constrained by respect for Muslim Americans’ voices and concerns. Nor is it constrained by the reality millions upon millions of followers of Islam do not experience or relate to the narrow-minded, bigoted interpretation of Islam promoted by so-called counter-terrorism experts who view warfare against non-Muslims as a central tenet of Islamic teachings and law. Whereas explicit calls for racial and religious profiling could result in “experts” being shunned in official circles, it’s critical that watchdogs in government recognize the codewords that could justify profiling or discrimination.

Guandolo focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood and its alleged activity in the U.S. According to Guandolo and many self-appointed counter-terrorism experts like him, the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating our fundamental institutions through front organizations: “From several major terrorism trials in the United States, and other information, we now know nearly every major Muslim organization in North America is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or a derivative group.” The alleged “front groups” include authentic Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups such as Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA).[1] According to Guandolo, the ultimate goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the U.S. and Shariah doctrine as the supreme law of the land.[2] Guandolo cites examples such as the installation of footbaths or separate pools for men as women as evidence of the growing Islamic Threat and complains that the reason why law enforcement has thus far abstained from action is due to potential lawsuits and political correctness.[3]

A number of experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have debunked the conspiracy theory voiced by Guandolo. For instance, Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor of political science, testified before Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a violent organization in most places it operates. The Brotherhood’s rejection of violence, said Brown, is “not a mere tactical adjustment” but a “deep strategic commitment.” He noted that the Brotherhood is not on any U.S. terrorism list and argued that the U.S. should not have any official policy toward the Brotherhood any more than it has a policy toward the greens, feminists, or nationalist right.

During the same hearing, Tarek Masoud, a Harvard University assistant professor of public policy, also criticized videos on Rep. Myrick’s website for giving too much credit to the Muslim Brotherhood and for using this conspiracy theory to tar Muslim groups as a “Fifth Column.” Masoud noted that communism did not make much headway in the U.S. with the backing of a major superpower. The Brotherhood could not likely “infiltrate” the States even if it wanted to. Masoud emphasized that an Islamic caliphate envisioned by some Brotherhood groups is a federation of Muslim states, not a grand global conquest. He also debunked a “1991 Exploratory Memo” used by the right-wing to justify their claims of a Brotherhood campaign to take over America. This memo, authored by Mohammed Akram, is an example of a Brother writing to people back home to urge them to make the U.S. a proselytizing priority. When the author said, “these are the organizations of our friends in America,” he followed that by writing, “imagine if they all marched together.” The list of Muslim groups contained in that memo, says Prof. Masoud, is properly interpreted as one individual’s aspirations, rather than as “arms of the Muslim Brotherhood octopus.”[4]

Setting aside basic problems such as selective reading, Guandolo’s analysis also suffers largely as a result of its paranoid associative tactics. In one example, which was highly publicized by NPR, Guandolo falsely accused Omar al-Omari, a 59-year-old Jordanian college professor who is an American citizen and has lived in Ohio for 30 years, of having ties with terrorists.[5] During a training session with the Columbus Division of Police, Guandolo showed a picture of Omari with members of CAIR as evidence of his guilt. However, several training attendees had worked with Omari before in his work in Muslim outreach for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and found the accusations ludicrous. NPR interviewed almost a dozen members of the national intelligence community including current members of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, all of which disagreed with Guandolo’s assessment.

Fortunately, since Guandolo can play guilt-by-association, so can his critics. Guandolo’s partner at SEG is Stephen Coughlin, a right-wing proponent of the thesis that Islam is inherently violent and Muslims are our enemies. Along with Coughlin, Guandolo also co-authored a report at the Center for Security Policy with other Islamophobic activists Frank Gaffney, Clare Lopez, and David Yerushalmi called “Shariah: The Threat to America” which jumbles as many Islam conspiracy theories as possible into one book.[6] The report mentions terms like “demographic jihad” and “stealth jihad” in the hope to scaring readers into fearing the Muslim disease. Moving forward, those defending the rights of Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Sikhs, and South Asians nationwide should heed the danger behind such racist rhetoric. Government officials should be especially mindful of the risk of spreading inflammatory ideologies among domestic security personnel, especially where they blatantly contradict stated U.S. policies of treating Muslim Americans as full partners and respecting Islam as a religion of peace.

Special thanks to PRA intern Ryan Katz for his work researching and drafting this post.

Sites on John Guandolo:

On the Guandolo scandal:

On the Guandolo scandal: - Great article on Guandolo by Sheila Musaji on

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part II:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part III:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV:

“The Islamists Battle Plan” featuring both Coughlin and Guandolo:

[1] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I – Understanding the Threat.”

[2] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV – Crossing the Bridge: The Implications of the Holy Land Foundation.”

[3] Musaji, Sheila. “John Guandolo, terrorism ‘expert.’”

[4] “Open Hearing on the Muslim Brotherhood,” House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, and Analysis, hearing chaired by U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (April 13, 2011). (see video at 1:29:40).

[5] Temple-Raston, Dina. “Terrorism Training Casts Pall Over Muslim Employee.”

[6] Ibid. Musaji.

Friday, July 8, 2011

FBI Using Next Generation of Big Brother to Cajole States into Targeting Immigrants?

Post-9/11 congressional mandates for better interagency information sharing have often been taken in a direction that undermines community safety and threatens personal privacy. According to new government records released to the public on July 6, 2011, the FBI is using its clout to cajole state and local law enforcement agencies into participating in the Secure Communities program (S-Comm) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under S-Comm, law enforcement agencies share sensitive data, collected for the purpose of stopping crime, with other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. ICE, which is part of Homeland Security, then uses the data for civil immigration enforcement. Thus, S-Comm turns local police into immigration agents.

The bureau’s new Next Generation Identification (NGI) system—an effort to achieve greater interoperability among databases at the national level, expand the biometric data in those files, and increase the size of the databases—is the tool for such information sharing. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Labor Organizing Network have sued to shed light on NGI.

S-Comm has come under fire from law enforcement and immigrant advocates alike. Law enforcement officials complain that the program undermines community policing initiatives, frightening community members away from working with police. Of the approximately 400,000 deportations under the Obama administration, 100,000 have been attributed to S-Comm. Many of the individuals removed were identified through their histories in the Criminal Alien Program, a program which puts ICE agents in county jails and detention centers to identify persons subject to removal. However, public officials charge that S-Comm is also responsible for deporting individuals over minor infractions, not dangerous crimes.

When an individual is detained or arrested, local law enforcement usually sends fingerprints and other data to the FBI, to check for matches against its databases. Increasingly, law enforcement is collecting additional personal identifying traits, such as retina images and palm prints. Under S-Comm, the FBI sends this personal data to ICE, which checks to see whether it matches information in its databases and whether the individual is subject to deportation. Yet, the information in ICE databases is not always reliable or up to date.

Because local agencies rely heavily on the FBI for background checks, the FBI can force them to participate in S-Comm. Many local and state agencies have been trying to opt-out of S-Comm, but according to Jessica Karp, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the FBI stands in their way:

The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Board, which oversees the FBI’s criminal databases, passed a motion in June 2009 recommending that the FBI convert S-Comm from a voluntary to a mandatory program. At that time—and as much as one year later—ICE was still representing S-Comm as voluntary to state and local officials. The FBI’s decision to support mandatory imposition of S-Comm was not driven by any statutory requirement but rather for what it called “record linking/maintenance purposes.” In fact, the FBI considered making S-Comm voluntary, showing that it viewed opting out as both a technological possibility and a lawful option.

S-Comm essentially does what Arizona’s SB1070 law—which requires police to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest—hoped to do, but on a national level. The image of FBI databases linked to those of Homeland Security should anger and concern every civil libertarian. With immense intelligence-collection power comes the responsibility to use information only for the purposes for which it was intended.

Even as immigration from Mexico has slowed to close to zero, senior law enforcement officials are trying to make sure that a heavy-handed, anti-immigrant security apparatus is well-entrenched.