Former Department of Homeland Security official Philip Haney wishes he was more surprised by the Orlando terrorist attack, but as he pointed out on Breitbart News Daily this week, the attack came from exactly the sort of Islamic radical network he got in trouble for studying too carefully.
Indeed, one of the major points he stressed during a follow-up interview is that many of the purported barriers between these networks are bureaucratic illusions — they are larger, better-funded, and more interconnected than the Obama administration wants to admit.
I asked Haney about the false, but very loudly repeated, administration narrative that Orlando jihadi Omar Mateen was “self-radicalized” — an assertion that grows more ridiculous with each new revelation about his background.
Haney described the self-radicalization narrative as “surreal.”
“Imagine what it must have been like to be an active-duty subject matter expert in counter-terrorism,” he said:
I had my own superiors making these kind of statements incessantly. When I was sitting there with evidence, for example, about the Ft. Pierce mosque – not only was there another person that blew himself up in Syria, but there’s an individual who is teaching a radicalization course who is on early release for weapons charges and tax fraud. And then his own father is vice-president of the mosque.
“As though nobody knew anything – that’s completely preposterous,” he said. “If you know anything about the Islamic worldview, family and community is ultimately central to everything they do. The concept of operating alone is anathema to the Islamic worldview. They just don’t do it.”
“So, self-radicalization – what does that even mean any more?” he asked. “Nobody is self-anything in this world we live in.”
I suggested that one of the driving forces behind the self-radicalization narrative is that it protects the Obama administration from charges that it dropped the ball on counterterrorism, portraying terrorists like Mateen as thunderbolts nobody could have seen coming.
Haney laughed derisively at the idea of pushing that excuse when we know Mateen was interviewed on multiple occasions by the FBI. He compared it to the way President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed the Benghazi terror attack on a “spontaneous video protest,” a false narrative meant to get them off the hook for being so completely unprepared to deal with the crisis. In both Benghazi and Orlando, red flags were ignored, and now they are retroactively denied.
“They say radicalization is ‘sudden.’ Well, a rocket launch looks very sudden, if you don’t know about all the months of hard work it took to get that rocket onto the launch pad,” Haney observed.
He denounced these political games as dangerously cynical.
“That’s when the false narrative morphs into an ominous malevolent entity, because the President is contradicting his own law enforcement agencies,” he observed.
Another false narrative he criticized was the fiction that radical Islamic organizations won’t cooperate, especially if they fall on opposite sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide. Haney stressed that obedience to sharia law — which he said radicals across the sectarian spectrum are “eighty percent in agreement on” — and the desire to impose it upon secular governments was a powerful common interest.
“It’s like the solar system, and sharia is the Sun,” he said of the Muslim continuum. To extend the analogy, radical groups might be seen as the outer planets, and the asteroid belt isn’t as wide as politically-correct U.S. government ideology portrays it.
Haney noted that Omar Mateen’s father is a supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan, whose name is derived from the word for “student,” and “sharia law is what they study.” The centrality of the Islamic legal code to radicals cannot be overstated; he observed that all of them list imposing sharia as one of their primary goals and believe strict adherence to sharia is a defining attribute of true Islamic faith.
This is precisely the understanding that the Obama administration aggressively prevents counterintelligence analysts from reaching. Haney noted analysts are not supposed to discuss concepts like sharia or jihad because such discussion is deemed “insensitive” to non-radicalized Muslims. The mindset of studied indifference stretches all the way to the top, as demonstrated by the root-canal difficulty of getting President Obama and Hillary Clinton to use the phrase “radical Islam.”
We have at least moved past the point where the dominant liberal media and government culture denies sharia law — not long ago, it was portrayed as a figment of bigoted imagination by paranoids out in flyover country — but they are still very uncomfortable discussing what it says, or the integral role it plays in religious tradition and politics.
The preferred administration mindset is a generic effort to “counter violent extremism,” which Haney saw as distracting investigators from the dots they should be connecting — almost a quota program that obliges analysts to look for enough non-Islamic “violent extremists” to balance the books.
He also noted that “Countering Violent Extremism” was the name of a specific administration program that came to a bad end, after a half-hearted pilot program in a few large cities, in large measure because of opposition from groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which helped design the program in the first place.
Haney cited reports that just days before the Orlando atrocity, the Homeland Security Advisory Council submitted a “Countering Violent Extremism” report to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, which instructed Homeland Security officials to avoid even saying the words “sharia,” “jihad,” or “umma” — another important concept, envisioning a Muslim community that extends beyond national borders, which Haney described as vital to understanding the radical mindset.
The handicap our government is placing upon itself is obvious. The Obama administration would forbid intelligence and law enforcement officials from talking about sharia, jihad, and the umma, but Islamist radicals and terrorist recruiters are eager to use those terms in their recruiting efforts. The battlefield of ideas is ceded entirely to the enemy. Of course, everything the enemy does comes as a stunning surprise to the administration.
Haney pointed out that “collaboration with unbelievers” against the Faithful is treated as a form of apostasy under sharia law, which motivates groups like CAIR to distance themselves from law enforcement efforts.
He mentioned an infamous 2011 poster produced by CAIR that explicitly instructed Muslims to “Build a Wall of Resistance” and told them, “Don’t Talk to the FBI” — with an FBI agent caricatured as a menacing shadowy figure. A CAIR spokesman amusingly admitted that the poster could be “subject to misinterpretation,” as if there was anything subtle or ambiguous about the message it sent.
Haney’s key point, offered from the perspective of a veteran analyst, is that attitudes and practices like this are not solely the province of radicals and terrorists. This is not the same as saying every Muslim teeters on the edge of radicalism and violence. Rather, it is essential for analysts to understand that radical groups are not inventing concepts like sharia law out of thin air. Radical recruiters are not using wholly alien concepts when they appeal to their subjects.
That is a direct contradiction of President Obama’s policy, with roots stretching back to the Bush administration, of insisting that there is a bright and absolute barrier between “true” Islam and “false” terrorist and radical groups.
Haney also warned not to underestimate the reach of radical groups, which are portrayed as a tiny minority by U.S. government dogma, largely alienated from the mainstream Muslim world. In truth, his research at the National Targeting Center kept leading up to large umbrella organizations like the Deobandi group and Tablighi Jamaat, which is tied to the mosque attended by the Mateen family. It was his Tablighi Jamaat investigation that he thought might have intercepted the San Bernardino bombers if it had not been scuttled for politically correct reasons.
These umbrella groups grew big and fast with Saudi money behind them, and they occupy the queasy space where politically-correct American officials fear to gaze: groups that are not explicitly terrorist and are not “radical” enough to be explicitly denounced as such by the U.S. government, for fear of being insensitive. But they are organized, influential, and pushing beliefs that are not in sync with our government’s ideal of mainstream, moderate Islam.
When I wondered if politicians like Obama and Clinton could define exactly what “radical Islam” is, Haney said that was a more important point than getting them to use the phrase. “They’re not really allowed to use the words it would take to answer the question,” he observed, pointing back at that Homeland Security report on Countering Violent Extremism.
It is not a semantic game. Terrorists and violent jihadis are few in number among Muslims living in the West, but they are surrounded by a much larger pool of radicals, whose activities are not usually blatantly illegal. Those radicals, in turn, project a sphere of influence considerably beyond their own numbers.
That influence includes politicians and advocacy groups, many of them not Muslim themselves, who make it difficult for analysts to study radical groups clearly, as Haney discovered during his time at Homeland Security. We can measure the resulting catastrophe by observing how often our government officials claim to be stunned by headline-grabbing cases of “sudden self-radicalization.”
Philip Haney’s book, See Something, Say Nothing: A Homeland Security Officer Exposes the Government’s Submission to Jihad, is available from Amazon.com.