The interesting question is not what FBI Director Robert Mueller said when he appeared before the annual convention of the American Muslim Council Friday.
The interesting question is why he appeared at all.
Though an FBI spokesman described the AMC last week as "the most mainstream Muslim group in the country," the bureau's counterintelligence operatives, field agents and other specialists know the real truth about the AMC: namely, that it has long been associated with, endorsed and otherwise supported radicals of various stripes who share a common, usually virulent antipathy towards the United States.
For example, the AMC has a long and consistent history of making common cause with terror groups in the United States. Many of them are far from the "mainstream" of law-abiding American Muslims. Some of them shared the dais with the director over the two-day conference, including several prominent leaders of Islamist organizations who have had their homes and/or businesses raided in the aftermath of Sept. 11 by joint federal-state task forces because they were suspected of funneling money to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Another featured guest speaker is the ambassador from Syria, a country the U.S. government has long designated a state sponsor of terrorism.
The AMC also declares itself to be an "active member" of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom. A number of those affiliated with this coalition have engaged in terrorist bombings and other acts of terror in this country (e.g., the Puerto Rican FALN and Macheteros, the Black Liberation Movement and Weather Underground) or abroad (e.g., in Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan).
Far from encouraging American Muslims to help root out terrorists from their communities, the AMC has aggressively attacked Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, a leading moderate voice in the American Muslim community. Kabbani has courageously spoken out against Islamic fundamentalism and the network of front groups operating and raising funds in the U.S., expressing what we can only hope is the true "mainstream" view.
FBI personnel are especially troubled by the AMC's longstanding solidarity with individuals convicted of murdering law enforcement personnel. These include Mumia Abu-Jamal, who killed Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, and American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who murdered FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.
What is more, the former president of the executive board of the AMC board of directors is Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown), who has the rare distinction of twice being listed on the FBI's own Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. He threatened to assassinate Lady Bird Johnson when she was the First Lady of the United States. Today he is serving a life sentence for the 2000 murder of Ricky Kinchen, a sheriff's deputy in Fulton County, Ga.
Given the American Muslim Council's tendencies in this regard, Mueller's subordinates would be right to wonder what to make of the AMC's current executive director, Eric Vickers, refusal to denounce specific terrorists or terrorist groups. He has declined repeated opportunities, provided by the media in recent days, to denounce such groups as Hamas, Hezbollah, Egyptian and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even Al Qaeda.
Vickers is known to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials. He was the incorporator and long-time officer of the Islamic African Relief Agency, which has been linked to terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in Africa. As a result of this link, the organization lost its State Department accreditation in 2000 and had $4.5 million in government grants revoked.
At the very least, Mueller's G-men and women must be baffled by his decision to talk to the AMC when this organization has joined other members of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom in urging their members not to speak with the FBI.
Though the AMC now claims it encourages cooperation with the bureau and law enforcement, the organization's web site continued to feature links to quite the opposite advice for several weeks after Sept. 11.
Presumably, Mueller learned a hard lesson from the public chastising he took from whistle-blowing Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who became frustrated with a leadership that sacrificed law enforcement efficiency and even the national security to political correctness and the hamstringing operational "guidelines" it imposed.
One would not know it, however, from the evident disregard he is showing in courting an organization that should be under his bureau's surveillance, not appeased and legitimized by his presence at their annual convention.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy.