The FBI's modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous -- and really, really stupid
A presentation on "Arab and Muslim culture" compares the western thought process with that of all Arabs. According to the FBI, westerners are "rational" thinkers; Arabs, on the other hand, are "emotion based." A slideshow on cross-cultural interrogation techniques says, "It is characteristic of the Arabic mind to be swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts."
Bazian said the FBI's generalizations about the Arab intellect are "ideological constructs reflective of the orientalist discourse."
"Many of these individuals have not done any primary sociological, psychological, or historical work in the Arab/Muslim world," said Bazian, who works on UC Berkeley's Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project. "What they basically do is take a text from a particular historical period and pick these points and put it as reflective of contemporary Muslim society. Most of these statements have no basis in any critical analysis. They're not rooted in any type of research."
Included in the FBI's recommended reading list for counterterrorism agents-in-training is the "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam," in which "Islam expert Robert Spencer reveals Islam's ongoing, unshakeable quest for global conquest and why the West today faces the same threat as the Crusaders did."
It's not exactly an academically sound piece of work, Bazian told us. Spencer and his cohorts are "political hacks," the professor said. "They come from neo-con backgrounds. Even saying 'extreme right wing' is giving them credit; they're way down below the cliff. They create this contrast between western society and the rest of the world based on a nostalgic idea of western society."
Arab culture is often the target these days, but the rhetoric recalls that used during the Chinese Exclusionary Act era, and toward Latinos in the United States today, Bazian said.
"They pick on the weakest, most vulnerable people in western society at a particular time and lay blame on them," he said.
The FBI's xenophobic approach to interrogation training—which involves warning new agents that "If an Arab is scared, he will often lie to try to avoid trouble"—is not even productive, Bazian said.
"If you go to people with professional training in interrogation and investigation, they'll say none of this gives them access to security. If anything, it creates a greater global misunderstanding."
And the creation of misunderstanding doesn't stop there. The FBI is also involved in an intelligence-gathering method known as racial mapping. Racial mapping involves local FBI offices tracking groups in their "domains" based on race and ethnicity.
In blog post, the ACLU writes, "Empirical data show that terrorists and criminals do not fit neat racial, ethnic, nation-origin or religious stereotypes, and using such flawed profiles is a recipe for failure." In the Counterterrorism Textbook read by all trainees the FBI seems to agree, warning multiple times that there is no such thing as a typical terrorist and that making assumptions based on stereotypes is dangerous and unproductive.
Yet the FBI files we've acquired reveal that the bureau consistently does just that. Though the Department of Justice prohibited race from being "used to any degree" in law enforcement investigations in 2003, a convenient and potentially unconstitutional exception allows racial profiling in national security matters.
When the FBI created its Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide in 2008, it used that loophole to permit the mapping of racial and ethnic demographic information and to keep tabs on "behavioral characteristics reasonably associated with a particular criminal or terrorist element of an ethnic community," the ACLU reported.