Now I understand why Terrorist Front Group CAIR has been spitting nails over the new counter-terrorism training methods being used by law enforcement.
Washington Monthly ––On a bright January morning in 2010, at Broward College in Davie, Florida, about sixty police officers and other frontline law enforcement officials gathered in a lecture hall for a course on combating terrorism in the Sunshine State. The instructor, Sam Kharoba, an olive-skinned man wearing rimless glasses and an ill-fitting white dress shirt, stood apart at the front of the hall reviewing PowerPoint slides on his laptop.
As he got under way, Kharoba described how, over the next three days, he would teach his audience the fundamentals of Islam. “We constantly hear statements,” Kharoba began, “that Islam is a religion of peace, and we constantly hear of jihadists who are trying to kill as many non-Muslims as they can.” Kharoba’s course would establish for his students that one of these narratives speaks to a deep truth about Islam, and the other is a calculated lie.
“How many terror attacks have there been since 9/11? Muslim terror attacks,” Kharoba asked the room. Silence. “Let’s start the bidding.”
“Over a hundred,” someone volunteered. “I got a hundred,” Kharoba called back. Another audience member, louder now, suggested three hundred. “Three hundred!” Kharoba declared. “Over a thousand,” offered another voice in the audience. Kharoba stopped the bidding. “Over thirteen thousand,” he said. “Over thirteen thousand attacks.” He paused to let the statistic sink in. (Actually, it’s over 16,000 but who’s counting?)
Kharoba belongs to a growing profession, one that is ballooning on the spigot of federal and state dollars set aside for counterterrorism efforts since the attacks of September 11, 2001. He is a counterterrorism instructor to America’s beat cops, one of several hundred working the law enforcement training circuit. Some are employed by large security contractors; others, like Kharoba, are independent operators.
Kharoba was born in Jordan, and he likes to intimate that members of his family are important tribal leaders. This lends a veneer of insider credibility to classroom remarks that might otherwise seem like off-color jokes. He showed the class some photographs taken in the Gaza Strip. “This is the Arab version of a line,” Kharoba told the students, gesturing to a photo of Palestinians rushing toward a passport agency. Then he showed a YouTube video of two uniformed men beating a nameless prisoner. “This is what Miranda rights are in the Arab world,” he said.
Fortunately for an adept American police officer, Kharoba said, jihadists telegraph their extremist intentions in altogether predictable ways. One only has to learn the signs. Take Mahmoud—Kharoba’s preferred name for a generic Muslim. Kharoba can tell whether Mahmoud is a Wahhabi (a member of a fundamentalist Islamic sect from Saudi Arabia) just by going through Mahmoud’s trash. There will be no pre-approved credit card offers, because interest is forbidden in Islam. There will be no brown wax fried-chicken bags, because fried chicken isn’t halal. For Kharoba, extremist Muslims are as easy to spot as American gang members.
“When you see a bunch of guys in red, what do you know?” Kharoba asked. “They are Bloods,” responded the audience, many of whom deal with gangs regularly.
“When you have a Muslim that wears a headband, regardless of color or insignia, basically what that is telling you is ‘I am willing to be a martyr.’” There were other signs, too. “From the perspective of operational security, there are two things I am always looking out for: a shaved body and moving lips,” he explained. “Some of the Pakistani hijackers shaved their whole bodies in a ritual of cleanliness. If their lips are moving, these guys are praying. As they are walking through an airport, every second they’re going to be praying.”
America today is too politically correct to acknowledge the reality of Islamic fanaticism, Kharoba said. “Would Islam be tolerated if everyone knew its true message?” he asked the class. “From a Muslim perspective, do you want non-Muslims to know the truth about Islam?” “No!” came the audience reply. “So what do Muslims do?” Kharoba demanded. “Lie!”
Kharoba strode forward to the front of the room, his voice slower now, more measured. “Islam is a highly violent radical religion that mandates that all of the earth must be Muslim.”
While his views are entirely his own, the fact that Kharoba is teaching this course at all reflects a sweeping shift in America’s official thinking about law enforcement and intelligence gathering. In recent years, the United States has become more and more committed to the idea of bringing local police forces into the business of sniffing out terrorists. In 2002, the National Joint Terrorism Task Force was set up to coordinate existing collaborative efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement. And since 2006, the Department of Justice has been developing a program called the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, through which local cops are meant to act as intelligence gatherers on the ground, feeding reports of suspicious activity to a network of data “fusion centers” spread out across the country. But in order for the cops to play a role in counterterrorism, the thinking goes, they need to be trained. And that’s where Kharoba and his ilk—counterterrorism trainers for hire—come in.
The very idea of integrating local police into the nation’s counterterror intelligence efforts is a subject of debate among security experts. People at the highest level of law enforcement and intelligence—to say nothing of civil liberties groups—have concerns about the strategy.
But one of the central problems is that the demand for training far exceeds the supply of qualified instructors. Even the CIA and FBI have had trouble finding people with the key skills to fill their ranks.
Sam Kharoba came to the United States from Jordan when he was seventeen to study computing at Louisiana State University. When the 9/11 attacks happened, he was working as a programmer. Noticing that the hijackers used multiple aliases, he became convinced that the American intelligence community was unequipped to deal with the multiplicity of Arab names. Kharoba quit his job and began work on a database of every jihadi website and name that he could find. “For nine months, I worked developing this database, with no income. I knew I could do it,” he told us. “It would be the best thing. I would solve a critical problem for the intelligence community, and then I’d call the Bureau, call the CIA, sell it for five million, and I’m done. I did my patriotic duty, and lived my American dream.”
Neither the CIA nor the FBI showed much interest in the database, though. Ten years later, Kharoba is still working on it. He fell into teaching by chance, in 2002, when the Community Oriented Policing Services Program in Louisiana invited him to give a talk. Kharoba had no professional experience in law enforcement, no academic training in terrorism or national security, and is not himself a Muslim. But as a Jordanian-born Christian he was able to turn his place of birth into a selling point. When we asked the dean of the Institute of Public Safety why she recruited Kharoba to teach there, her answer was that Kharoba “put the flavor of Middle Eastern culture into it.”
Kharoba is an especially colorful character, but he is in some ways typical of the kinds of people who have migrated into the police counterterrorism training business.
Some trainers do have roots in law enforcement. In a major recent report on America’s efforts to use local police to monitor the population for terrorist threats, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and William M. Arkin spoke to a counterterrorism trainer named Ramon Montijo, a former Los Angeles police detective and Army Special Forces sergeant. Like Kharoba, Montijo made sweeping generalizations about Muslims. “They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House—not on my watch!” he said. “My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders.”
Despite their different backgrounds, the counterterrorism trainers we interviewed have a remarkably similar worldview. It is one of total, civilizational war—a conflict against Islam that involves everyone, without distinction between combatant and noncombatant, law enforcement and military. “Being politically correct inhibits you,” Hughbank said. “I know Islam better than my own religion. Some things need to be called a spade.”
In Terror at Beslan, Giduck recounts giving a presentation on the 2002 hostage crisis at the Nord-Ost Theater in Moscow. After most of the terrorists were knocked unconscious by the gas that security forces pumped into the building, Spetsnaz, the Russian special forces, came through, methodically shooting each of the terrorists once in the back of the head. Giduck is convinced that as Americans we could do better: we could shoot them twice. Giduck writes of being alarmed when a policeman came up to him after the talk and said that not one of the cops in the room would ever have considered doing this. “I think the first thing we need to do is pass federal legislation exempting law enforcement from any civil or criminal prosecution, any liability at all, for what they do if there is a terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” Giduck writes. “In attempting to prepare the American psyche for the worst possible terrorist act—the taking and killing of children—we must all shed the veil of civility and luxury in which we conduct our lives.”
And yet these trainers reach a considerable swath of law enforcement personnel. Of the half-dozen instructors we spoke to, most estimated that they had individually trained between 10,000 and 20,000 students over the course of the past five to six years. There are about 800,000 police officers in total in the United States.
hen I look at the life of Muhammad, I get a very nasty image,” said Kharoba, pausing to look around the auditorium. The audience was silent. “I am talking about a pedophile, a serial killer, a rapist,” Kharoba said. “And that is just to start off with.
“Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace,” he continued, “is either ignorant or flat out lying.” Frustration seemed to be burning in the air, and a cop—looking grim, anguished—spoke up. “From a law enforcement standpoint, what can we do?” he asked. “What do we do to deal with these people?”
“The best way to handle these people is what I call legal harassment,” Kharoba answered. “Start to identify who is coming into your area.” Go to the DMV and see who has applied for a driving license. Look at the owners of convenience stores. Corner stores are one of the principal ways Hezbollah launders money in the United States, he said. “You only need one precedent,” Kharoba said. “Health inspectors, alcohol trade officers, these guys can turn a convenience store upside down without a warrant.”
Eventually the discussion turned to Islamic names, a subject in which Kharoba claims a specialty. There are two types of Muslim immigrants, Kharoba told the class: honest ones who Americanize their names, and those who use long Arabic names as a smokescreen. “If I pull someone over at a traffic stop,” said Kharoba, “I’ll ask for a couple of IDs. And if I see different spellings of a name, my Christmas tree is lit up. That’s probable cause to take them in.”
Police attend classes like Kharoba’s for a variety of reasons. Local and state law enforcement officers must meet annual or biannual training requirements, a certain number of hours of which are slated for maintenance of “perishable skills”: things such as driving and shooting. Officers or their departments can generally pick the rest. Often, departments need a “go-to” person, someone who is a source of information on a subject such as counterterrorism. Attendees tend to be self-selected, motivated by an awareness of how little they know about Islam or a heightened concern about Islamic terrorism, and this can make them more inclined to be receptive to an instructor like Kharoba.
It also helps that the terror trainers are often entertaining. They engage their audience with questions, jokes, stories, and visuals. Like other trainers, Kharoba has a useful stage presence. “He kept an audience of police chiefs captivated,” said Phil Ludos of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “That is not an easy thing to do.”
When we spoke to students from Kharoba’s class in Florida, many were enthusiastic. Olga Gonzalez, who is a TSA officer in Miami, told us she had taken several of Kharoba’s courses. “This guy is brilliant,” she said. “I can’t believe it: just like gang affiliations, you can distinguish between secular and jihadist Muslims.”
Such enthusiasm was echoed by dozens of Kharoba’s students and former students. On one occasion, we asked a student whether gangs—a more conventional subject of police attention—weren’t a more pressing issue for cops than terrorists. “Yeah, the gangs are a threat,” answered the officer. “But they don’t have 1.5 billion members.”
Sam Kharoba says that in seven years of teaching he has done only one marketing function, because each training session leads to further invitations. Other trainers said similar things. If you are popular with cops, the word spreads; if you are not, you won’t last long. “It’s a very closed community,” Kharoba told us. “Cops are not going to read an advertisement, they are going to listen to friends.”
Were any cops skeptical of Kharoba’s teachings? Some certainly were. David McKaig, a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, enjoyed Kharoba’s class but noted that its lessons were not always applicable. “We have to uphold the rights of citizens,” McKaig noted. “You can’t violate the constitutional rights based on a hunch.”
But that doesn’t mean that trainers like Kharoba aren’t influential. “Now that I know these people might hate ‘the infidel,’ and be doing whatever they can to undermine the civilized world, I am somewhat leery of dealing with Muslims,” McKaig told us. “I go into their residences respectful but wary, which is not good in my position.”