FBI reaches out to Muslim, Sikh communities to fight global terror
Washington, June 14 (IANS) The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched a pilot programme to reach out to community leaders from the Muslim, Sikh and a few other select communities across nationalities and rope them in in its fight against global terrorism.
Called the Community Relations Executive Seminar Training or CREST, the programme aims at three things: bridge the trust gap, develop a bond, and build a level of confidence where the FBI and the community leaders believe in each other to have an honest and lasting friendship.
CREST has been launched 'because if the threat is now home-grown to a large extent, we have to be looking for it at home,' said John Miller, FBI's assistant director of public affairs briefing foreign media on the agency's work with counter terrorism, counter-intelligence, criminal investigation, and cyber crime in New York.
Initially started in New York, Los Angeles, Buffalo and Albany, where there are very vibrant and active Muslim communities, the programme is being expanded nationally to other areas with large Muslim, Sikh and other communities that would play into the cultural diversity outreach.
Since a lot of these communities look on the FBI and the federal government at large with a great deal of suspicion, the FBI wanted to have some kind of insurance,' said Miller, who's also head of the Los Angeles Police Department counter- terrorism office.
The idea was to have the kind of tripwires that will make community members, even those that hold the FBI or the federal government with some level of suspicion, cross the line and come forward and say, 'I've seen something, I've heard something, I've picked up on something that I'm not comfortable with that may be something you need to know about.'
'So rather than wait for them to come to us - well, for instance, with complaints, as they did in some of these other cities - we're going to extend the hand of friendship and say, 'Let's begin to talk, even though we don't have any particular problem,' to again try and achieve that three-step process to get to some place where there is a level of trust and confidence,' Miller said.
Unlike 'Citizens Academy', another FBI programme where participants get a real introduction to the FBI from the inside, the CREST programme involves no background check with a community leader to conduct outreach as 'it's probably the wrong first step in making friends.'
'So we go out to them. It can be a mosque, it can be a meeting hall, it can be a neutral site, it can be a restaurant. It doesn't really matter where; the importance is if you're going to be doing what you call outreach, you should go out, otherwise it's in-reach.'
A couple of months ago, a town meeting in New York that brought a large group of the Pakistani community together in a restaurant was broadcast live on local Pakistani television. Despite the heat, there was standing room only.
In Buffalo, town meetings have been broadcast across 'Bridges TV,' an English language station and an Arab-American set of cable stations. In Los Angeles, FBI put together a town meeting with the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a number of other groups involved in their Cultural Diversity Advisory Board.
Allaying any apprehension among the Muslim communities that rather than wanting and targeting those who are potentially terrorists FBI could be making them targets of entrapment, Miller said he understood the concern, but it should not be a great worry to any legitimate member of the community.
'Speaking in plain terms, if I go to you and say, 'Listen, I've got a great plan that we can blow up a building at 50th and third,' and I keep talking to you about it, your job is to pick up the phone and call the police or the FBI - not to say, 'Yeah, well, what kind of explosives would we use, and where would we get them, and how would we get the money.'
'You might call that entrapment because it's my idea. But when you get down to the bottom line, somebody who has no proclivity towards terrorism or violence can't be sucked into one of these plots without some level of intention.'
In Miller's view, the best tool to counter the terrorism threat is community relations, besides increased cooperation between international agencies and local law enforcement partners.
Community relations cannot be looked on as a feel-good piece anymore, he said, because it's not just about community policing or making friends for the sake of making friends. But because one can't just count on the idea that some satellite will intercept it, that some piece of pocket litter found in some safe house three continents away is going to be the key to stopping the attack, Miller said.