Washington, D.C. (Sept. 28, 2016) — When FBI Director James Comey appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer oversight questions from Members of Congress, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) questioned him on the FBI efforts to counter violent extremism. Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, has hosted a series of Congressional briefings this year on the Countering Violent Extremism program.
Chu’s questions to Comey were about civil rights and the FBI’s “Don’t Be a Puppet” website, which lists several broad warning signs for those perceived to be prone to extremist violence. Chu expressed concern that this strategy could promote profiling.
“In today’s national security climate, and in the wake of domestic terror attacks like the one we saw next to my district in San Bernardino and elsewhere around the country, identifying domestic threats is imperative,” Chu said. “However, I, along with many national education, faith, and civil rights groups, am concerned that the FBI’s current approach encourages broad assumptions and religious prejudice.
Chu said the FBI’s ‘Don’t Be a Puppet’ website encourages friends, teachers, and family to report someone for expressing interest in traveling to ‘a place that sounds suspicious.’ She said this advice invites prejudices as a trip to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, even if just to visit family, is more likely to arouse suspicion than a trip to France or Germany, where violent extremism has also been a problem.
The website also warns against those using “suspicious language”, guidance which is so vague it could easily be misconstrued by many to be a warning against those simply speaking a different language, not just using incendiary rhetoric, Chu said.
“These broad warnings, while perhaps useful to a trained and experienced FBI profiler, would only engender suspicion if used by children in classrooms,” Chu said. “I encourage the FBI to look for alternatives that do not threaten the free speech of our students. If put into practice, as the website suggests, Muslim, Sikh, Middle Eastern and South Asian students, who are already more prone to bullying in schools, could be afraid to freely express ideas. We need a clearer understanding of what makes somebody a threat beyond their religion, language, or ethnicity.”
Chu said that Congress, law enforcement and concerned groups should continue this conversation and take a deeper look at how to keep the country safe while also balancing civil liberties.
Chu said she was “deeply disappointed” that with all of the concerns about terrorism, extremism and liberty so prominent on Americans’ minds, the hearing instead focused presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, even imploring the FBI to reopen their investigation after having decided to close it without filing charges, she said.
“Americans deserve better than election-year partisanship and personal attacks,” Chu said.