Washington: Muslim Special Agents and Intelligence Analysts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are reporting a climate of fear inside the agency coinciding with the political ascendance of Donald Trump, the Guardian reported.
FBI officials from Muslim-majority countries, a minority in a predominantly white bureau, say they are subjected 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.
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.
“Before they can go after Muslims in general, they have to purge the US intelligence community,” the analyst, Said “Sam” Barodi, told the Guardian.
Barodi was fired on 1 February 2017 after a year-long investigation that stemmed from what he considered to be a strict adherence to the rules. He refused to confirm his status as a government employee after a US customs official who was following him in a foreign airport blurted it out in a public area near his departure gate.
What Barodi called, in an email to Comey, “the increasing hostility Middle Eastern/Muslim employees face in the FBI” had already been on the director’s radar.
On 18 May 2016, Comey held a meeting with representatives of minority groups at the FBI, including African Americans, Muslims, women, Asian Americans and LGBT employees. He heard what Barodi called the “struggle stories” of nine different Muslim employees who have faced what they consider discrimination.