Manufacturing a “Black Separatist” Threat and Other Dubious Claims: Bias in Newly Released FBI Terrorism Training Materials

(Cross-posted on Firedoglake.)

In a throwback to the J. Edgar Hoover-era COINTELPRO investigations targeting civil rights and anti-war activists, the FBI is now training its agents to be on the lookout for "Black Separatist" terrorists, according to FBI training materials released today by the ACLU. These new disclosures, obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation, are the latest in a growing flood of FBI training materials that include factually flawed and biased information.  

The FBI's apparent concern over a so-called "Black Separatist Threat" first came to light last year, when the ACLU released a 2009 FBI Atlanta Intelligence Note that purported to examine this "threat," in part by charting the growth of the black population in Georgia from 2000 through 2015. 

It is hard to see how the relative size of the black population has any bearing on the number of alleged "Black Separatists" in a given area, much less the threat they pose, and this question is not answered in the document. We previously raised concerns that the memo, while heavily redacted, focuses undue attention on the First Amendment-protected activities of the groups it identifies as "Black Separatists," including appearances at political campaign events and protests against police violence, rather than any alleged acts of terrorism. 

But the Atlanta Intelligence Note raised a more fundamental question: who are "Black Separatists" and is there any evidence they pose a terrorist threat? Internet searches of "Black Separatist terrorism," "Black Separatist bombing," and "Black Separatist shooting" fail to bring up any recent incidents that could be fairly described as terrorist violence. No "Black Separatist" terrorist incidents are included in the FBI's list of "Major Terrorism Cases: Past and Present," nor on the more comprehensive list of terrorist attacks going back to 1980, which are detailed in an FBI report entitled "Terrorism 2002-2005." While Black nationalist groups like the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army were certainly involved in political violence back in the 1970s, they no longer exist, and the last acts of violence attributed to either group were more than two decades ago

So why are Atlanta FBI agents now searching for black separatist threats?   Because the FBI appears to be training them to believe there is one using factually flawed materials.

Newly-released FBI domestic terrorism training presentations on "Black Separatist Extremists" juxtapose decades-old examples of violence by the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army with unorthodox and controversial beliefs expressed by a number of different modern groups to suggest, without evidence, that these latter-day groups pose a similar threat of violence. The FBI admits that the organizations it calls "Black Separatists" have no unifying theme or mission, stating "specific goals historically fluctuated between group to group," but suggests that "all share racial grievances against the U.S., most seek restitution, or governance base [sic] on religious identity or social principals [sic]." This broad description could of course cover many different groups from the fringe to the mainstream, exposing them all to heightened government surveillance. Related counterterrorism training presentations indicate the FBI has also invented a new class of domestic terrorists in 2009 called "American Islamic Extremists," which it describes as American Muslims who mix "Islamic theology with some levels of black separatism, anarchism, and racial rhetoric." 

These FBI training materials, obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, raise three primary concerns. First, for the FBI to produce training programs that portray groups as violent threats based on old and misleading evidence and false associations is improper, and can only misdirect investigative resources. And because the groups highlighted have little in common save their racial identities, these flawed trainings will encourage racial profiling, rather than fact-based investigations. Second, the presentations' focus on the unconventional ideologies of these modern groups tends to suggest a direct connection between belief and violence, which will again lead to inappropriate investigations based on First Amendment-protected activities rather than evidence of criminal conduct. Finally, even where these inappropriate investigations based on race and ideology fail to find evidence of violence, under its new rules the FBI may continue to pursue these groups under what it calls a "disruption strategy."

The FBI's disruption strategy is laid out in a 2009 memorandum from the Counterterrorism Division to all field offices instituting a "baseline collection plan," which itemizes the types of information that FBI agents should seek during investigations of suspected terrorists. The plan describes implementation of a "disruption strategy" that is eerily reminiscent of the COINTELPRO-era disruption activities that were specifically designed to suppress First Amendment activity. The 2009 FBI memorandum states that when "the risk to public safety is too great, or if all significant intelligence has been collected, and/or the threat is resolved," agents may employ a disruption strategy "including arrests, interviews, or source-driven operations to effectively disrupt subject's activities" [emphasis added]. This means that groups the FBI believes, but cannot prove, are involved in terrorism (perhaps because they aren't) can still be investigated and targeted for sting operations or other invasive techniques, not to mitigate a threat, but to disrupt their activities. 

By conjuring the notion of a "Black Separatist" movement from the unconnected activities of different groups with disparate views and goals, the FBI creates a false justification for aggressive enforcement operations against any group to which it gives this label, essentially using race and ideology as proxies for evidence of violence. Such disparate treatment raises grave First Amendment and equal protection concerns. Indeed, a separate presentation on "Abortion Extremism" has a slide that makes this point explicitly:

"Many tactics standing alone constitute protected activity under the First Amendment. However, when considered in the context of the abortion extremism movement, these tactics may indicate a resurgence of extremist activity."

Race and Ideology Emphasized in FBI Training and Intelligence Products

Unfortunately, the Atlanta FBI's misguided fixation on race and ideology is not unique. A 2008 FBI Newark Intelligence Note purporting to describe the threat from the street gang MS-13 produced a county-by-county analysis of the Latino population in New Jersey, broken down by national origin, as part of the FBI's racial and ethnic mapping program

Alabama and Georgia FBI offices also tracked Latino communities, even though the Alabama FBI made clear that MS-13 is not an exclusively Latino gang. Similar FBI documents targeted Muslim communities in Michigan, and Chinese and Russian communities in San Francisco. The FBI's identification and mapping of these ethnic communities leaves them open to heightened scrutiny, aggressive surveillance or even "disruption" operations.

The ACLU previously released flawed FBI training materials that presented false and biased views of Arabs and Muslims, but the documents we're releasing today show that factual flaws and bias are broader problems in FBI training. In addition to the training presentations on so-called "Black Separatists," the FBI has produced a broad range of misleading and prejudicial materials based on race, ethnicity and ideology:

•    FBI domestic terrorism training presentations on "Anarchist Extremists," claim they are "not dedicated to any cause" and merely "criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities," yet focus heavily on protest activity, including "'passive' civil disobedience." The Justice Department Inspector General previously criticized the FBI for mislabeling non-violent civil disobedience as terrorism.
•    FBI training on "Animal Rights/Environmental Extremism" twice lists "FOIA Requests" as examples of "Intelligence Gathering" or "University targeting." And a slide from another presentation suggests there is a "public relations war" in which the "Media is sometimes slanted in favor of activists" and "Activists spin the truth."
•    The same FBI training also claims there are two "types" of "Abortion Extremism:" first, groups that "advocate and engage in the use of violence and force to end legal abortions… [and] pose an economic threat to service providers…;" and second, "[t]hose that "advocate and engage in the use of violence and force against individuals and groups who appose [sic] abortions." The presentation fails to provide a single example of violence against abortion opponents. Including such an unsupported claim in an FBI terrorism training course could lead to inappropriate investigations based on viewpoint rather than evidence of wrongdoing.
•    FBI counter-intelligence training on "The Chinese" presents stereotypical and simplistic information, such as the suggestion that "American culture" tends to be "direct and to the point," while Chinese culture "is more subtle… to save face" (emphasis in original). A slide on interactions with the opposite sex admonishes agents that touching and too many compliments "may imply a romantic liaison is desired…Be Careful!"
•    FBI "cultural awareness" training purports to examine cultural similarities and differences between Arabs, Iranians, Chinese and Koreans, using broad racial and ethnic stereotypes. One slide warns FBI agents not to stare at or shake hands with Asians, and another suggests Iranians will be especially impressed by agents who are "bright and clever."

There's no place for factually incorrect law enforcement training or intelligence reports, and instruction that focuses on race and ideology will undoubtedly drive biased and inappropriate FBI investigations. To its credit, after a public outcry the FBI initiated a review of its racist training materials on Islam and Arab culture, and reportedly removed over 800 problematic documents from its programs (including the slide about shaking hands with Asians). But it has so far refused to review FBI intelligence reports, which often include similarly erroneous information and may reach an even broader law enforcement audience.

The release of these new FBI training materials makes clear that the FBI must conduct a more comprehensive review of both counterterrorism training and intelligence materials to remove factually flawed and biased information, which in turn results in biased, improper, and ineffective FBI investigations and intelligence activities.

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These cops from Palm coast flagler co florida 32164 running prostitutes from Alaska down thru here and into Orlando then using them to Stasi decomp gang stalk us for terrorist processing; and cops under sheriff bizzel of smithfield johnston county nc 27577 are running car-rings with the Olive's and Jackson's and Francis Frank Bastilla and ex-commissioned and national guards from Smithfield...reselling the cars Hwy 70 and Rt 42 up in Clayton & Cleveland in JOhnston Co. NC -- all are connected to a ring of rogue govt employees and DoD Ft Bragg PSYOPs on US citizens using electromagnetic frequencies and microwaves and NSA NAVY technologies to destroy peace loving anti-war and Democrats/Libertarians/Independents to silently slow touch kill us. All cops seem to be involved. No one will help us. We spoke w/FBI in Boston this morning. I called FBI in Wash DC summer 2009; and FBI in Charlotte 09, by 2010 I called it gang stalking now realize its disinformation, They are out of control these right-wing extremists and others by the FBI COINTELPRO and Dod ex-commissioned helpers. Please help us before they kill more of us. Chris Myers

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The cops in Florida,like all over the US are rounding average citizens up in a Stasi Decomp using military grade weaponry and group organized stalking... we have just learned it is terrorist processing. Now, we believe we one of many the cops and FBI have placed us on terrorist watch lists and or SARS. No-one will help us; we spoke w/the HDS today who transferred us to the FBI in Boston. The female refused to give us her name. Yet, I spoke with chris Swecker in Charlotte NC who knows... the last place I lived in Smithfield Johnston CO NC in conjunction with the CIA (Torture Aero Contractors) and their sheriff Bizzel worked w/DoD Thomas D. Lewis guard at Ft Bragg who PSYOPed me w/Right wing hate groups nazi flag waving trucks revving in and out of my driveway, 247 gang stalking that i learned is terrorist processing. Its stasi decom stealing our homes. In Smithfield the cops steal cars reselling them on used car lots on rt 42 and hwy 70--here their running prostitution to orlando and we are sick and fed up that our country is allowing this, no one will speak with us while w're being assaulted with military grade weapons and treated like target practice. Please tell the Senate intell we need another Church Committee and we need it now before they continue to kill us.


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