WASHINGTON – Federal prison officials are failing to adequately screen Muslim chaplains (search) and others who provide Islamic religious services to inmates to determine whether they hold extremist views, Justice Department (search) investigators say.
A report by Justice Department inspector general Glenn A. Fine also found Muslim contractors and volunteers have ample opportunity "to deliver inappropriate and extremist messages," which could lead to terrorist recruitment, inside federal prisons because they lack proper supervision.
Muslim inmates themselves sometimes lead Islamic services in prisons, another potential source of terror recruitment and dissemination of extremist doctrine, according to the report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Formal release was set for Wednesday.
"Religious providers are in a unique position to influence the beliefs and conduct of inmates," the report said. "The presence of extremist chaplains, contractors or volunteers ... can pose a threat to institutional security and could implicate national security if inmates are encouraged to commit terrorist acts."
About 9,000 of the estimated 150,000 federal prison inmates identify themselves as Muslim. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 (search), 2001, the FBI has been concerned that Al Qaeda (search) and other terror groups might use prisons to radicalize inmates and recruit operatives in the United States.
The 10 full-time Muslim chaplains at federal prisons told Justice Department investigators they had not witnessed any such attempts. Besides these chaplains, there are dozens of Islamic contractors and volunteers who provide religious services to inmates.
The Muslim chaplains, according to the review, "stated that some inmates are radicalized in prison by other inmates."
Richard Reid, convicted of attempting to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb, converted to Islam while in a British prison. Jose Padilla, being held as an enemy combatant on allegations he was plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, is believed to have turned to radical Islam while jailed in Broward County, Fla., the report says.
The Pentagon last year arrested a Muslim chaplain, Army Capt. James Yee, on suspicion of espionage and other crimes for allegedly trying to take classified material into the military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The espionage allegations and other charges were dropped, and Yee was cleared of wrongdoing in April, when a military judge overturned an adultery and pornography reprimand against him.
The Muslim chaplains, contractors and volunteers in federal prisons all undergo criminal background checks. The chaplains and contractors also must pass a drug-screening urinalysis.
But prison officials told investigators they did not ask these providers any questions about their Islamic doctrine because to do so might violate the Constitution.
The Justice Department review, however, said prison officials should be able to determine if a Muslim religious official subscribes to a doctrine espousing violence, anti-American activities or discrimination.
The report makes a number of other recommendations, including tighter supervision by prison officials of chapel services and control of religious materials, more staff training about Islam and increased hiring of chaplains and other religious providers based on referrals by local or regional Muslim organizations.
The Bureau of Prisons has made "significant improvements" in many of these areas since the review began in March 2003, the report says. Bureau officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The review was prompted by concerns raised by several senators, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that prison officials brought in Muslim religious providers from organizations that may have ties to extreme forms of Islam.
The Bureau of Prisons until recently accepted endorsements for chaplains and other providers from the Islamic Society of North America. Now it has no national group to use for endorsements, which has effectively frozen hiring of Muslim service providers.
The report drew no conclusions about allegations of terrorism-related connections by ISNA or other groups. But a classified version of the review includes an FBI assessment about individuals and groups with such links.