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Rep. Chu Questions FBI Director Comey on Strategies in Countering Violent Extremism

September 28, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, FBI Director James Comey appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer oversight questions from Members of Congress. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) questioned Director Comey on FBI efforts to counter violent extremism in accordance with civil rights, particularly the “Don’t Be a Puppet” website which lays out broad warning signs for those perceived to be prone to extremist violence. Rep. Chu expressed concern that this strategy could promote profiling and released the following statement:

“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. 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. For instance, the FBI’s ‘Don’t Be a Puppet’ website encourages friends, teachers, and family to report someone for expressing interest in travelling to ‘a place that sounds suspicious.’ 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.  These broad warnings, while perhaps useful to a trained and experienced FBI profiler, would only engender suspicion if used by children in classrooms. 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.

“It’s crucial that Congress, law enforcement, and concerned groups continue this conversation as we look to keep our country safe while balancing civil liberties. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to once again question Director Comey. And why I’m deeply disappointed that, with concerns about terrorism, extremism, and liberty so prominent on Americans’ minds, Republicans instead chose to spend the hearing pursuing their political obsession with Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, even imploring the FBI to reopen their investigation after having decided to close it without filing charges. Americans deserve better than election-year partisanship and personal attacks.”

Rep. Chu has hosted a series of Congressional briefings this year on the Countering Violent Extremism program.