How Spy Agencies Plan to Solve Their Racism Problem

Prompted by Snowden leaks, the office of the director of national intelligence is attempting damage control by promising new programs meant to promote “diversity and tolerance.”

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 29: A member of CodePink protests as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (C) takes his seat prior to a hearing before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee October 29, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Potential Changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)." 
Getty Images
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
Dustin Volz
July 21, 2014, 12:42 p.m.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are pledging “di­versity and tol­er­ance” re­forms after leaks by Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed a string of dis­crim­in­at­ory prac­tices and com­mu­nic­a­tions rife with ra­cial, eth­nic, and re­li­gious epi­thets.

The of­fice of the dir­ect­or of na­tion­al in­tel­li­gence says it will im­ple­ment an­nu­al train­ing on “multi-cul­tur­al un­der­stand­ing and sens­it­iv­ity,” an eval­u­ation of cur­rent di­versity train­ing, and the rees­tab­lish­ment of an ex­tern­al ad­vis­ory board on “di­versity and in­clu­sion,” ac­cord­ing to a DNI spokes­wo­man. The spokes­wo­man did not com­ment fur­ther on the spe­cif­ics of the pro­grams.

The in­tel­li­gence com­munity on Fri­day said it had com­pleted an in­tern­al re­view of its tol­er­ance policies. The re­view came at the be­hest of the White House fol­low­ing the Snowden leak.

The leaked ma­ter­i­als, pub­lished in The In­ter­cept, re­vealed the FBI and Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency had been spy­ing on the emails of five prom­in­ent Muslim-Amer­ic­ans who are not pub­licly known to be linked to any ter­ror­ist activ­ity. Also pub­lished was a 2005 FBI spread­sheet that lis­ted an uniden­ti­fied tar­get’s place­hold­er name as “Mo­hammed Ra­g­head.”

The In­ter­cept re­port promp­ted a heavy back­lash from anti-sur­veil­lance ad­voc­ates, who cited it as evid­ence of a sus­tained ra­cial and re­li­gious bi­as firmly en­trenched in the post-Septem­ber 11 na­tion­al se­cur­ity ap­par­at­us. Last week, some at­tendees of a White House din­ner cel­eb­rat­ing the Muslim hol­i­day of Ra­madan ex­pressed con­cern that the NSA was un­fairly tar­get­ing Muslims for sur­veil­lance.

In re­sponse, the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not com­ment dir­ectly on the vera­city of the leak, but said it had asked the of­fice of the dir­ect­or of na­tion­al in­tel­li­gence to con­duct an eval­u­ation of its policies to de­term­ine wheth­er suf­fi­cient safe­guards were in place to pre­vent ra­cial or re­li­gious bi­as.

Civil-liber­ties groups re­main largely un­im­pressed by the new sens­it­iv­ity meas­ures, say­ing they were un­likely to pre­vent the agen­cies from fu­ture re­li­gious-based tar­get­ing.

Naur­een Shah, le­gis­lat­ive coun­sel with the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, said the new ini­ti­at­ives do not make clear “wheth­er law en­force­ment are still basing sur­veil­lance meth­ods on flawed as­sump­tions.” She poin­ted to the FBI’s 2012 pur­ging from its files of hun­dreds of coun­terter­ror­ism train­ing doc­u­ments after a re­view found sev­er­al in­ac­curacies — in­clud­ing the use of Muslim “ste­reo­types” or gen­er­al “poor taste” — in their de­pic­tion of Is­lam.

“All we know is the tip of the ice­berg,” Shah said. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to do more ac­count­ing of its policies.”

Last week, the Sikh Co­ali­tion filed a Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act re­quest to both the NSA and FBI ask­ing for all em­ploy­ee emails sent from Sept. 11, 2001, un­til present that con­tain the slurs “ra­g­head” or “tow­el­head.”

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
38 minutes ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

Rapper Jay Z to Perform Concert for Clinton
49 minutes ago
Log Cabin Republicans Don’t Endorse Trump
51 minutes ago

While the organization praised him for being "perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party," the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Donald Trump for president. The organization, which is the largest gay organization in the United States, said that Trump failed to earn its endorsement because he surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ people "and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called 'First Amendment Defense Act' that Log Cabin Republicans opposes."

Congress Needs to Deal With Impending Nuclear Plant Closures
1 hours ago

Energy Secretary Ernesto Moniz is warning Congress "that Congress and businesses need to act with more urgency to work out a medley of challenges in promoting nuclear power." A number of nuclear plants are currently on track to close around 2030, unless their licenses are extended from 60 years to 80 years, something that could jeopardize the success of the Clean Power Plan. Moniz called on Congress to pass legislation creating interim storage facilities for used nuclear power.

Trump Pocketed Insurance Money Following 2005 Hurricane
2 hours ago

Donald Trump has said he received a $17 million insurance payment in 2005 following Hurricane Wilma, which he claimed did severe damage to his private club in Florida. However, an Associated Press investigation could not find any evidence of the large-scale damage that Trump has mentioned. Additionally, Trump claimed that he transferred some of the $17 million to his personal account thanks to a "very good insurance policy."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.