bad intelligence training and the perils of intelligence blogging

Spencer Ackerman started what appears to have stirred up a bit of a hornets nest with a post about training at the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia.

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

The article describes materials given in an elective class to FBI personnel with course material ‘demonstrating’ (ahem) that Islam=terrorism.  There’s a bunch of self serving, unexamined assumptions that continue with the old theme of all Christians and Jews have evolved to be peace loving peoples.  Muslims remain stuck in the 6th century and remain bloodthirsty barbarians.

In their defense (hmmm) the course was an elective and the FBI claims the course was given only once but this is the FBI not Mayberry.  I find it hard to believe that the FBI would allow a course (even an elective) to see the light of day if it hadn’t gone through some sort of rigorous vetting procedure.

How in the world does this sort of nonsense get through even a superficial review?

…the Islamic “insurgency” is all-encompassing and insidious. In addition to outright combat, its “techniques” include “immigration” and “law suits.” So if a Muslim wishes to become an American or sues the FBI for harassment, it’s all just part of the jihad.

More concerning is the fact that the author if this course was an FBI analyst (plus a whole lot more).

Just a general observation.  If you have a prospective intelligence analyst/manager/instructor and they’ve seriously engaged with WorldNetDaily, you might want to rethink that hiring decision.  What’s next?  Weekly World News and updates on Batboy?

Now, I’m a big fan of analysts engaging the information superhighway and talking about their profession, craft and describing events using their skills.  I also don’t think that we should necessarily hold people professionally accountable for everything they do or say online for all eternity.  Look, we’re still figuring this online stuff out and we’re bound to flub things up now and again.  I certainly wouldn’t want (or expect) to have everything I’ve written here over the past six years to be used to evaluate my skills (except maybe the stuff about the Swedish king building a zombie army to take over the world…that shit is real!) but one of the dangers when writing (or interviewing) about a subject which is directly related to your paying gig is that those statements can be assumed to be part of your professional outlook/methodology.  It doesn’t have to be but we all know that people rarely are interested in context or shades of gray.

And there’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that an opinion expressed online will necessarily have some sort of implications for an analyst on the job.  It may but it may not.  Analysts (heck, just about everyone really) should be free to explore and play around with ideas and concepts.

Most of us have written stuff on line that we’re less than proud of, either because it was wrong, sloppy or suffered from some other sin(s).  In those cases you can apologize and try to set the record straight or just try to ignore it and never, ever mention it again, hoping the overwhelming tide of internet content will smother it, never to be seen again.  I suspect that’s what Mr. Gawthrop is wishing he had done right about now.

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