For years, a handful of national security experts, NGOs, and members of Congress have been trying to raise a red flag over what they suspected were active influence operations by the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States.
(The RAND Corporation defines influence operations as “the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.”)
On June 13, 2012, five members of Congress called for an investigation into Muslim Brotherhood influence operations in the Obama administration. The five members– Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA)– were widely criticized for doing so, even by their own Republican leadership, including John McCain (R-AZ), John Boehner (R-OH), and Mike Rogers (R-MI).
At the time, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said, “It’s not right to question the loyalty of fellow Americans without any evidence.” Well, now we have the evidence.
The New York Times published a comprehensive article on September 7th entitled, “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” The article documents multi-million dollar donations to Washington-based think tanks that include the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council, by foreign governments as a way of buying influence in Washington.
For example, the government of Qatar made a $14.8 million donation to the Brookings Institution. It is a matter of public record that Qatar is a key funder and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and, indeed, that supporting Muslim Brotherhood parties has been a cornerstone of Qatar’s foreign policy.
According to Middle East Monitor, The Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Tamim bin-Hamad, said that support for the Muslim Brotherhood is a “duty” for which no thanks are necessary. Qatar is home to the pro-Brotherhood channel Al Jazeera, to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, considered the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar has directly funded a number of Muslim Brotherhood entities, including Hamas and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar has also provided refuge to many exiled Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
While The New York Times does not make explicit the link between Qatar’s position on the Muslim Brotherhood and its support for the Brookings Institution, the Times does report that the former prime minister of Qatar sits on the Brookings board and that Brookings staff meet regularly with Qatari government officials about the center’s activities. The report says that Qatar’s large donations to Brookings buy something of a guarantee that Brookings will burnish the image of Qatar. It does not go into specific policies or positions that Brookings has advanced as a result of this alliance. But a close look at Brookings’ publications makes clear that promoting the Muslim Brotherhood has been a key part of that agenda.
In particular, Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, has consistently argued that the United States must learn to live with political Islam and that supporting the “non-violent” Muslim Brotherhood is the West’s only way of forestalling further radicalization and future threats from the “violent” Islamists such as Al Qaeda. For example, in one article, Shahid argued that the U.S. should exert its influence in Egypt and Jordan to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the upcoming elections: “With much-anticipated elections in both countries scheduled for 2010 and 2011, the Obama administration as well as the U.S. Congress have the opportunity to weigh in and address the question of Islamist participation, something they have so far avoided doing.”
The fact that the New York Times has provided proof of foreign-government influence operations in America’s national security community should now raise serious concerns about some major policy decisions in recent years, where foreign interference was suspected but never proven.
In 2012, Newt Gingrich wrote an article about the Congressional probe of MB infiltration where he noted that the Defense Department’s official report on the Fort Hood shooter illogically described Nidal Hassan’s attack as “workplace violence.” Gingrich also charted the White House’s efforts to expunge mention of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel not merely from its own statements but also from the historical record, and he noted the explicit exclusion of Israel from the Global Counterterrorism Forum, in September 2011, by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Claiming Jerusalem as the capitol of the caliphate has been a major goal of the Muslim Brotherhood. When the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood announced at a rally on May 1, 2012 that their candidate for president would be Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi declared the following in a speech to thousands:
The capital of the Caliphate–the capital of the united states of the Arabs–will be Jerusalem, Allah willing. Morsi will liberate Gaza….Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.
Given the alignment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s goals with U.S. policies and now proof that very large amounts of money have been expended to influence policy, one has to ask what was behind these policies. Were they made with the interests of the United States in mind, or were they driven by other factors? Given the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, this is a question of major significance.
An issue of even greater import for the security of the United States and for American citizens is the potential influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the massive purge of counter-terrorism trainers and training materials that took place in the autumn of 2011.
At that time, the Department of Justice initiated a sweeping review of all counter-terrorism trainers and materials used throughout federal law enforcement and every branch of the military. Hundreds of training slides were reviewed by an anonymous panel of reviewers. Many trainers were forbidden from future training and material that used terms like “jihad”, “Islamic terrorism”, or “Islamist violence” were expunged.
It was noted at the time that there were members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and in other positions of influence, who were known Islamists or Muslim Brotherhood members, or who had gone on record defending terrorist groups and acts of terrorism: individuals such as Louay Safi, Mohamed Elibiary, Omar Alomari, Imam Mohamed Magid, and Sahar Aziz. But while the questioning of allegiances and agendas of these individuals never moved beyond a small circle of conservative websites and analysts, American experts who had spent their lives in law enforcement or the military either lost their jobs or were constrained from further sharing of their expertise.
Aside from the injustice of what happened in 2011, the burning question for today, as we approach the 13th anniversary of the 2001 attacks, is whether U.S. law enforcement or the military can be prepared properly for the rising threat from The Islamic State (ISIS) if there are constraints on what they are being taught about Islamist terrorism and what words they are allowed to use to describe the threat.
The New York Times has provided a very important glimpse into a new era of foreign-government influence operations in the United States. Those who raised concerns about it in the past should now feel vindicated. But if members of Congress or the Department of Justice decide to dig deeper into this issue, their investigation cannot stop at influence-buying of US think tanks but must look into every aspect of America’s national security apparatus.
Katie Gorka is president of the Council on Global Security. Follow her at @katharinegorka.