The Shocking Way US Cops Are Trained to Hate MuslimsIncreasingly, American beat cops are exposed to virulently anti-Muslim teachings, by self-styled "terrorism experts" with no experience in national security.
By Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze, Washington Monthly
Posted on March 10, 2011, Printed on March 14, 2011http://www.alternet.org/story/150209/the_shocking_way_us_cops_are_trained_to_hate_muslims?akid=6653.127567.tFNTy_&rd=1&t=2
On a bright January morning in 2010, at Broward College in Davie, Florida, about sixty police officers and other frontline law enforcement officials gathered in a lecture hall for a course on combating terrorism in the Sunshine State. Some in plain clothes, others in uniform, they drifted in clutching Styrofoam cups of coffee, greeting acquaintances from previous statewide training sessions. The instructor, Sam Kharoba, an olive-skinned man wearing rimless glasses and an ill-fitting white dress shirt, stood apart at the front of the hall reviewing PowerPoint slides on his laptop.
As he got under way, Kharoba described how, over the next three days, he would teach his audience the fundamentals of Islam. “We constantly hear statements,” Kharoba began, “that Islam is a religion of peace, and we constantly hear of jihadists who are trying to kill as many non-Muslims as they can.” Kharoba’s course would establish for his students that one of these narratives speaks to a deep truth about Islam, and the other is a calculated lie.
“How many terror attacks have there been since 9/11? Muslim terror attacks,” Kharoba asked the room. Silence. “Let’s start the bidding.”
“Over a hundred,” someone volunteered.
“I got a hundred,” Kharoba called back. Another audience member, louder now, suggested three hundred.
“Three hundred!” Kharoba declared.
“Over a thousand,” offered another voice in the audience.
Kharoba stopped the bidding. “Over thirteen thousand,” he said. “Over thirteen thousand attacks.” He paused to let the statistic sink in.
Kharoba belongs to a growing profession, one that is ballooning on the spigot of federal and state dollars set aside for counterterrorism efforts since the attacks of September 11, 2001. He is a counterterrorism instructor to America’s beat cops, one of several hundred working the law enforcement training circuit. Some are employed by large security contractors; others, like Kharoba, are independent operators.
Kharoba was born in Jordan, and he likes to intimate that members of his family are important tribal leaders. This lends a veneer of insider credibility to classroom remarks that might otherwise seem like off-color jokes. He showed the class some photographs taken in the Gaza Strip. “This is the Arab version of a line,” Kharoba told the students, gesturing to a photo of Palestinians rushing toward a passport agency. Then he showed a YouTube video of two uniformed men beating a nameless prisoner. “This is what Miranda rights are in the Arab world,” he said.
Fortunately for an adept American police officer, Kharoba said, jihadists telegraph their extremist intentions in altogether predictable ways. One only has to learn the signs. Take Mahmoud—Kharoba’s preferred name for a generic Muslim. Kharoba can tell whether Mahmoud is a Wahhabi (a member of a fundamentalist Islamic sect from Saudi Arabia) just by going through Mahmoud’s trash. There will be no pre-approved credit card offers, because interest is forbidden in Islam. There will be no brown wax fried-chicken bags, because fried chicken isn’t halal. For Kharoba, extremist Muslims are as easy to spot as American gang members.
“When you see a bunch of guys in red, what do you know?” Kharoba asked.
“They are Bloods,” responded the audience, many of whom deal with gangs regularly.
“When you have a Muslim that wears a headband, regardless of color or insignia, basically what that is telling you is ‘I am willing to be a martyr.’” There were other signs, too. “From the perspective of operational security, there are two things I am always looking out for: a shaved body and moving lips,” he explained. “Some of the Pakistani hijackers shaved their whole bodies in a ritual of cleanliness. If their lips are moving, these guys are praying. As they are walking through an airport, every second they’re going to be praying.”
America today is too politically correct to acknowledge the reality of Islamic fanaticism, Kharoba said. “Would Islam be tolerated if everyone knew its true message?” he asked the class. “From a Muslim perspective, do you want non-Muslims to know the truth about Islam?”
“No!” came the audience reply.
“So what do Muslims do?” Kharoba demanded.
Kharoba strode forward to the front of the room, his voice slower now, more measured. “Islam is a highly violent radical religion that mandates that all of the earth must be Muslim.”
The class broke for lunch.
That afternoon, Kharoba offered more tips on how to detect violent Muslims. “You remember the Alligator Alley incident?” he asked.
He was referring to the events of September 13, 2002, when three Middle Eastern men at a Shoney’s restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia—one Jordanian, one Pakistani, and one Egyptian—were overheard talking about “bringing it down” to Miami. A nearby diner, one Eunice Stone, became alarmed and contacted the Georgia highway patrol. In what became a terrorist scare with national coverage, the police pulled the three men over on Alligator Alley, the long section of Interstate 75 that cuts west across Florida. For thirteen hours, the police combed the vehicle for explosives.
Kharoba projected a picture of Ayman Gheith, one of the arrested men, onto the screen. “The first thing is facial hair,” Kharoba said. “Do you see how the moustache is trimmed, and the beard is in a cone shape? It is very common to have this beard, and the moustache will always be the same, just like Muhammad.”
There is only one problem with the Alligator Alley case—a problem Kharoba never mentioned to the class. The incident was a false alarm. The “terrorists” turned out to be medical students on their way to a conference in Miami. They were innocent. After thirteen hours of interrogation, the police released them. Kharoba, however, taught the class that Ayman Gheith was a “textbook case” of Islamic fanaticism.
While his views are entirely his own, the fact that Kharoba is teaching this course at all reflects a sweeping shift in America’s official thinking about law enforcement and intelligence gathering. In recent years, the United States has become more and more committed to the idea of bringing local police forces into the business of sniffing out terrorists. In 2002, the National Joint Terrorism Task Force was set up to coordinate existing collaborative efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement. And since 2006, the Department of Justice has been developing a program called the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, through which local cops are meant to act as intelligence gatherers on the ground, feeding reports of suspicious activity to a network of data “fusion centers” spread out across the country. The system is scheduled to be up and running in all seventy-two of the nation’s fusion centers by the end of this year. But in order for the cops to play a role in counterterrorism, the thinking goes, they need to be trained. And that’s where Kharoba and his ilk—counterterrorism trainers for hire—come in.
The very idea of integrating local police into the nation’s counterterror intelligence efforts is a subject of debate among security experts. People at the highest level of law enforcement and intelligence—to say nothing of civil liberties groups—have concerns about the strategy. While the premise is perhaps intuitively appealing—particularly in a place like Florida, where several of the 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons—one danger is that the system will be flooded with bad leads. An increase in incidents like the mistaken arrests on Alligator Alley would only degrade police work, obscure real threats, and spoil relations between America’s cops and America’s Muslims—who have thus far volunteered some of the most fruitful leads in preventing domestic terror attacks.
It might be theoretically possible to ward off such an outcome if police could be provided with impeccable training. But one of the central problems is that the demand for training far exceeds the supply of qualified instructors. Even the CIA and FBI have had trouble finding people with the key skills to fill their ranks. For state and local law enforcement departments, the scarcity is even more acute. Into the void, self-styled experts have rushed in.
While expertise in counterterrorism training may be in short supply, money for it is not. Each year the federal government directs billions of dollars (no one knows exactly how much) in terrorism-related training grants to state and local governments. These funds cascade down into myriad training programs like the one at Broward College, where instructors like Kharoba ply their trade with only minimal supervision.
Sam Kharoba came to the United States from Jordan when he was seventeen to study computing at Louisiana State University. When the 9/11 attacks happened, he was working as a programmer. Noticing that the hijackers used multiple aliases, he became convinced that the American intelligence community was unequipped to deal with the multiplicity of Arab names. Kharoba quit his job and began work on a database of every jihadi website and name that he could find. “For nine months, I worked developing this database, with no income. I knew I could do it,” he told us. “It would be the best thing. I would solve a critical problem for the intelligence community, and then I’d call the Bureau, call the CIA, sell it for five million, and I’m done. I did my patriotic duty, and lived my American dream.”
Neither the CIA nor the FBI showed much interest in the database, though. Ten years later, Kharoba is still working on it. He fell into teaching by chance, in 2002, when the Community Oriented Policing Services Program in Louisiana invited him to give a talk. Kharoba had no professional experience in law enforcement, no academic training in terrorism or national security, and is not himself a Muslim. But as a Jordanian-born Christian he was able to turn his place of birth into a selling point. When we asked the dean of the Institute of Public Safety why she recruited Kharoba to teach there, her answer was that Kharoba “put the flavor of Middle Eastern culture into it.”
Kharoba is an especially colorful character, but he is in some ways typical of the kinds of people who have migrated into the police counterterrorism training business. Many have limited background in U.S. counterterrorism and domestic law enforcement, and little patience for the rules and conventions that govern both fields.
Quite a few have found their way into the profession by using their military experience to teach courses in how to respond to terrorist attacks. The trainer Joe Bierly, based in Riverside County, California, served twenty-two years in the Marines, “and another ten plus years in the black world, doing operations.” Bierly has a shooting range at his house, and practices every day. Most cops, he said, only go to the range, “what, once a year?” He doesn’t think American law enforcement is ready for the next terrorist attack. At the end of the day, he said, the question is this: “Can you run fifteen yards on a blood-slicked floor, take aim, and still hit the target?”
Richard Hughbank, another counterterrorism trainer, is a fourth-generation combat veteran on his father’s side. “Honestly, I kinda fell into it,” Hughbank told us when we interviewed him in November 2009. “I think most of us did.” The idea that fighting terrorism was a mission that might extend beyond his military career began to sink in when Hughbank was in Afghanistan. “A man I very much respect, with whom I turned the first five hundred people in to Guantanamo Bay, told me, ‘Richard, this is your future, this is your enemy.’;” Hughbank went on to found and became president of Extreme Terrorism Consulting, which provides counterterrorism training to law enforcement.
John Giduck was a practicing lawyer in the 1980s. Then, he says, during the late Gorbachev era, the American Bar Foundation dispatched him to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where he met the head of the KGB for Leningrad. (“Putin’s boss,” he says.) They became fast friends, and Giduck began traveling frequently to Russia. He claims to have trained with multiple Russian special forces units, and to be certified by the “Vityaz Special Forces Anti-Terror School.” In 2004, Giduck traveled to Russia immediately after the Beslan school massacre and wrote a book called Terror at Beslan. It was published in 2005, and it raised Giduck’s profile, earning him a guest appearance on the Glenn Beck show in the fall of 2007. Among the book’s most sensational allegations is that the terrorists at Beslan systematically raped their hostages, a claim that no other primary source account has made. In the meantime, Giduck has also become an in-demand counterterrorism trainer.
Some trainers do have roots in law enforcement. In a major recent report on America’s efforts to use local police to monitor the population for terrorist threats, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and William M. Arkin spoke to a counterterrorism trainer named Ramon Montijo, a former Los Angeles police detective and Army Special Forces sergeant. Like Kharoba, Montijo made sweeping generalizations about Muslims. “They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House—not on my watch!” he said. “My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders.”
Despite their different backgrounds, the counterterrorism trainers we interviewed have a remarkably similar worldview. It is one of total, civilizational war—a conflict against Islam that involves everyone, without distinction between combatant and noncombatant, law enforcement and military. “Being politically correct inhibits you,” Hughbank said. “I know Islam better than my own religion. Some things need to be called a spade.”
In Terror at Beslan, Giduck recounts giving a presentation on the 2002 hostage crisis at the Nord-Ost Theater in Moscow. After most of the terrorists were knocked unconscious by the gas that security forces pumped into the building, Spetsnaz, the Russian special forces, came through, methodically shooting each of the terrorists once in the back of the head. Giduck is convinced that as Americans we could do better: we could shoot them twice. Giduck writes of being alarmed when a policeman came up to him after the talk and said that not one of the cops in the room would ever have considered doing this. “I think the first thing we need to do is pass federal legislation exempting law enforcement from any civil or criminal prosecution, any liability at all, for what they do if there is a terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” Giduck writes. “In attempting to prepare the American psyche for the worst possible terrorist act—the taking and killing of children—we must all shed the veil of civility and luxury in which we conduct our lives.”
“The former military guys [working as trainers] are always looking at this thing from a battlefield perspective,” explains Jack Cloonan, a twenty-five-year veteran of the FBI who worked in the Osama bin Laden special unit from 1996 to 2002. “They are always looking at it as a U.S. military operation. But what does that have to do with sitting in the Bronx? Or trying to blend into society to carry out an attack? It’s just not related.”
And yet these trainers reach a considerable swath of law enforcement personnel. Of the half-dozen instructors we spoke to, most estimated that they had individually trained between 10,000 and 20,000 students over the course of the past five to six years. There are about 800,000 police officers in total in the United States.
When I look at the life of Muhammad, I get a very nasty image,” said Kharoba, pausing to look around the auditorium. The audience was silent. “I am talking about a pedophile, a serial killer, a rapist,” Kharoba said. “And that is just to start off with.
“Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace,” he continued, “is either ignorant or flat out lying.”
Frustration seemed to be burning in the air, and a cop—looking grim, anguished—spoke up. “From a law enforcement standpoint, what can we do?” he asked. “What do we do to deal with these people?”
“The best way to handle these people is what I call legal harassment,” Kharoba answered. “Start to identify who is coming into your area.” Go to the DMV and see who has applied for a driving license. Look at the owners of convenience stores. Corner stores are one of the principal ways Hezbollah launders money in the United States, he said. (The claim is not true.) “You only need one precedent,” Kharoba said. “Health inspectors, alcohol trade officers, these guys can turn a convenience store upside down without a warrant.”
Eventually the discussion turned to Islamic names, a subject in which Kharoba claims a specialty. There are two types of Muslim immigrants, Kharoba told the class: honest ones who Americanize their names, and those who use long Arabic names as a smokescreen. “If I pull someone over at a traffic stop,” said Kharoba, “I’ll ask for a couple of IDs. And if I see different spellings of a name, my Christmas tree is lit up. That’s probable cause to take them in.”
As a law enforcement officer in the audience pointed out, this is hardly true. People have different names for all sorts of reasons. Arabic names often include a long chain of references to ancestors, occupations, places, and relatives, and don’t readily fall into the pattern of first, middle, and last names common in the Christian West. A Muslim name on a passport might be rendered one way by an immigration clerk, and quite another by a desk agent at the local DMV. These differences are not illegal.
Kharoba was undeterred. He pointed out a laminated reference card that he had included in the course materials. With this card, an officer could see if a driver’s name follows the standard naming pattern for the Arabic world. If the police officer remained in doubt, he should call Kharoba, who has an unusual hobby: he collects phone books. Kharoba has a collection of Jordanian phone books right up until 1992. If a cop were to call up with a Jordanian name not shown in the phone book, Kharoba’s advice would be unequivocal. “Fingerprint him. Take him to prison.”
Kharoba reiterated the need to fight ruthlessly, sharing a story about the government of Syria quelling an uprising in Aleppo by shelling the city and killing more than 7,000 people. It’s a terrible story—but no such thing happened in Aleppo. It happened in Hama, a city about ninety miles to the south, in 1982.
Similarly, when we examined his manual, A Law Enforcement Guide to Understanding Islamist Terrorism, we found the claim that when the Muslim population of a country exceeds 80 percent, one should expect “state-run ethnic cleansing and genocide.” The examples given were Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Neither state has ever been involved in genocide. In fact, large sections of Kharoba’s guide turned out to be word for word the same as open-source materials found online—everything from publicly available Facebook pages to anonymously authored PDFs.
Though the federal government covers much of the cost of counterterrorism instruction, it has surprisingly little control over who is chosen to conduct the training. Structural problems abound. There is no unified system of expert evaluation or regulatory authority to impose quality control. The Tenth Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” has been interpreted to mean that police powers, and officer training, are the preserve of the states. By design, state and local law enforcement is not the responsibility of the federal government, and neither is officer training. While the Department of Homeland Security offers certification, this only means that approved courses are eligible for DHS funds. If the course is paid for by other means—by a regional source, or by another federal department—DHS accreditation isn’t necessarily required. Even DHS money, once received by a state or local police department, can often be used for trainers without DHS accreditation