WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidates have claimed that the Obama administration is cleansing government files of references to radical Islam, an assertion so juicy that politicians keep repeating it — even though it's a wild exaggeration.
The latest to run with the story is former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who told a crowd in Des Moines that the president "actually ordered all references to Islam and Muslim sanitized out of our national security documents."
And over the weekend, Newt Gingrich told a veterans' forum in Des Moines that the administration has "issued instructions, for example, that in developing training papers on terrorism that no mention should be made of radical Islam."
Rep. Michele Bachmann paved the way on Oct. 28, when she told 75 Republican faithful in Iowa that "Obama is allowing terror suspect groups to write the FBI's terror training manual."
So where is this coming from? Last September, the online publication Wired.com broke a story that an FBI analyst had given a lecture to bureau trainees that was critical of Islam. The publication followed up, disclosing that the same analyst had given a similar lecture to an FBI-sponsored event in New York City. The FBI immediately ordered a comprehensive review of all the materials it uses to train its agents.
It would be hard to overstate the importance the FBI attaches to assistance from the Muslim community in the bureau's terrorism investigations in the United States — a point that FBI Director Robert Mueller drove home in an appearance Wednesday at the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"We have met with various representatives of the Muslim community" in the aftermath of the inappropriate FBI training to convey just how seriously the bureau takes the matter, said Mueller.
In an effort to ensure that all of its training materials are appropriate, Mueller said, the bureau assembled a five-member panel of experts on Islam — two people from inside the FBI and three outside scholars — from Yale, Princeton and Johns Hopkins University.
The review found a very small percentage of material that was either inappropriate or inaccurate or both, and the bureau immediately got rid of it, said a bureau official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss the internal handling of the issue.
"I believe our relationship with the Muslim community is very good," said Mueller. The director told Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that "we are addressing" the problem and that "it's an anomaly."
A few snippets of the former FBI analyst's assertions reflect the kind of information the bureau regards as inappropriate.
The materials for the FBI analyst's instructional presentation said that mainstream American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, that the Prophet Mohammed was a cult leader and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a funding mechanism for combat.
A video of the New York City lecture included a reference to "an Islamic motivation" for violent acts of terrorism. The analyst no longer teaches training classes.