Interviews Of Muslims To Broaden

WaPo – Interviews Of Muslims To Broaden

FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during this election year. A few dozen voluntary interviews of community leaders, students, businesspeople and others have been conducted so far, according to attorneys and Muslim activists. Authorities said they do not know how many people will be contacted, but the effort is expected to expand significantly in the next week or so. The new round of questioning is also far more targeted than an earlier program of voluntary interviews with men from Arab and Muslim countries, which followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was criticized for being ineffective and using profiling. “This is not a general population. They are identified by intelligence or investigative information,” said an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy. He added that the questioning did not signify that the people were under investigation themselves.

The questions being posed vary widely, according to attorneys, activists and interviewees. Several people in California and Arizona have been asked whether they knew anyone who had recently been in the Pakistani border region of Waziristan, regarded as a possible refuge for al Qaeda figures. They were also asked about Abu Nour, which agents identified as a mosque and school in Syria that was popular with American converts to Islam, the attorneys and activists said. “We were told by the FBI agents that they’re concerned there could be a coming threat from people who are recent converts to Islam,” said Stacy Tolchin, a San Francisco lawyer who accompanied a Turkish Kurdish immigrant to an interview this week.

Law enforcement officials decided to step up efforts to contact Muslims and Arab Americans because of intelligence reports that al Qaeda is planning a large-scale attack in coming months in the United States, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said recently. “While we currently lack precise knowledge about when, where and how they are planning to attack, we are actively working to gain that knowledge,” Ashcroft said in a news release July 9. “As part of that effort, we are again reaching out to partners in the Muslim and Arab American communities for any information they may have.”

Whether this will yield much in the way of useful intelligence is unclear. And, certainly, this has to be handled with some delicacy to avoid frightening people who have done nothing wrong–not to mention getting their cooperation. Still, it would be foolish not to try to build an information network from the vast number of Muslims who live in the United States. Ideally, some of them will be recruited to join our intelligence community. They’re our best bet for infiltrating terrorist cells.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. L-Shuffle says:

    James —

    Expected more from you, pal. Why not internment camps?

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    Well, I wish them luck on the delicacy side, though if it were me, the Martha Stewart case would nullify any reassurance from the delicacy with which a Federal law enforcement officer approached me.

    From the vantage point of legal authority, the FBI certainly has the right to do this and it is no where near the establishment of any internment camps.

    Something deeper needs to be addressed, however. It seems to me that the historical evidence indicates strongly that “law enforcement” and “intelligence gathering” are fundamentally incompatible activities.

    We need to all think seriously how domestic “intelligence gathering” can be made compatible with a free society. I’m not sure it can, but the dangers of not trying to make it so are now overwhelming. We have to try.

  3. Cas says:

    I just heard a report that Al’Qaeda may be attempting to recruit “non-arabs” for an attack on the US this summer or autumn. I would guess that this means that they are STILL recruiting within the muslim community, but they are targeting many of the “new converts” to Islam, many of whom are “non-Arab.”

  4. Attila Girl says:

    They are trying to stay ahead of the curve. If they can get some people who don’t have that “middle eastern” look–e.g., blondes–they’d have an advantage. That’s all.