Build Trust via Communication, Understanding and Transparency
By Dr Shahid Athar
The FBI and American Muslims at times have an uneasy relationship after the tragedy of 9/11. While the agency has a duty to protect the nation and all Americans, some Muslim Americans are skeptical of its operations and suspect they are being targeted, profiled, and spied upon by FBI informants planted in mosques.
One major Republican candidate has asked for some mosques to be closed. Under this cloud of mistrust Muslim Alliance of Indiana, an umbrella organization of about 50 organizations and mosques covering 250,000 Indiana Muslims, invited FBI special agent W. Jay Abbott to address the concerns of American Muslims attending its annual November 14, 2015 convention.
He graciously came and made the following remarks. Just as the FBI has to protect all Americans, American Muslims have a duty to help them in their fight against the scourge of terrorism. All concerns of the society we live in are our concerns too. This is our home.
(Remarks by FBI Special Agent W. Jay Abbott at the University of Indianapolis, November 14, 2015)
I am honored to be with you .Your achievements are a testament to the commitment of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana to make a positive impact on behalf of the Muslim community within our Great Hoosier State of Indiana. Since your inception, the MAI has consistently worked for an Indiana that not only ensures social justice for Muslims, but for all Hoosiers. You recognize that by bringing Muslims together, you re-ignite those tenets of your faith that lead you to serve and dedicate yourselves to a better world .You are committed to developing educational, social, and outreach programs that foster cooperation and understanding both with other religious communities as well as civic and service organizations, thank you for what you do. I would like to begin by talking about the FBI’s many community outreach efforts which I believe help our various communities build trust via communication, understanding and transparency. But first, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the work we do.
2. The Work of the FBI
Today’s FBI is different from the FBI established in 1908 .The FBI is now a national security organization working to predict and prevent terrorism and crime. We handle everything from terrorism to violent gangs, from spies to child predators, and from computer hackers to corrupt officials National security – terrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber crime – remains our highest priority, followed by public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, white collar crime, and violent crime/major thefts. We are not just a domestic agency. The FBI is global. We have legal attaché offices (known as Legates) and smaller sub-offices in strategic locations around the globe, providing coverage for more than 200 countries, territories, and islands
And we have established numerous partnerships with our international counterparts to investigate terrorist attacks, organized crime, cyber crime, and gangs. The men and women of the FBI are working day and night to keep the American public safe, but we can’t do it alone. Throughout the FBI’s history, we’ve always needed the help and support of the American people. You have always been our most valuable partners, and we could not do what we do without your trust in us.
3. Community Outreach Transformation
One way we build upon that trust is through our community outreach efforts. We must communicate and collaborate with you – the citizens who live and work in the communities we serve – in order to increase our understanding of each other and more fully appreciate your needs and to be aware of the problems you face. Over the last few years, the FBI’s community outreach program has undergone a dramatic transformation at the national level... We are conducting outreach to ethnic and minority communities in new and innovative ways. One such program is the Citizens Academy. Through this program, more than 10,000 community leaders nationwide have received an up-close and personal look at the mission and capabilities of the FBI. Community leaders and others from the business, religious, and civic communities are invited to participate in the program, which is presided over by the local field office’s Special Agent in Charge and senior managers. If you are interested in participating, contact us and let us know or better yet talk to one of our alumni, and I am proud to see that there are several alumni graduates in the audience tonight who attended the FBI’s Citizen’s Academy at Indianapolis and Fort Wayne . Another such program is the Community Relations Executive Seminar Training – otherwise known as CREST. CREST is a shorter, more focused version of the Citizens Academy, and is conducted in partnership with a local community group. The program serves as a means to exchange information between the FBI and the participating communities. We have expanded our partnerships with national and local organizations – from minority organizations like the NAACP, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Anti-Defamation League, and the League of United Latin American Citizens to community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Our website, FBI.gov, has a variety of information available. The site features scam and fraud warnings, along with articles about how citizens can protect themselves from crime, contact information for local FBI field offices, and information about the crimes we invest .We have a number of outreach programs for children and teens, as well The FBI’s Indianapolis Division every Summer does a three-day Youth Leadership Academy in collaboration with the FBI Indianapolis Citizens Academy Alumni Associates. The program provides leadership training to students from within our community that have demonstrated their leadership ability in High School through successful academics and civic involvement. We also host a one-day high school teen FBI educational event at the FBI’s Indianapolis Division hosted by the Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee. The day emphasizes the importance of being law-abiding citizens and hopefully inspires students to achieve excellence in whatever they pursue but especially strives to gain interest in law enforcement as a future career and we alert you about missing kids, fugitives, threats, and scams on our website, FBI.gov, as well as on Face book and Twitter... These are some of the ways we are working to help you, but you are also helping us. Your tips have helped us find missing children. Your cooperation has helped us catch fugitives we have featured on digital billboards throughout the country and on our Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. And by taking part in our outreach programs, you have helped us build key partnerships within the communities we serve. Increasing opportunities to communicate with each other, increase understanding and transparency and thereby build trust
The communities we serve are diverse... As we work to build upon these strong community partnerships, we are also working toward greater diversity within the FBI... We are fully committed to building a workforce that reflects the many different communities we serve across the country – a workforce that understands the needs of those communities. Diversity is essential for our success, because the work we do requires a broad range of perspectives, both in our understanding of a complex world, and in our approach to problem solving.
5. Our Guiding Principles
I want to turn for a moment to our guiding principles... We in the FBI face significant and evolving criminal and terrorist threats. But regardless of the threats we face, we must act within the confines of the Constitution and the rule of law – every day, in every investigation. Indeed, every FBI employee takes an oath of office promising to uphold the Constitution and to adhere to the rule of law. For us, these are not mere words – they set the expectations for our behavior, and the standard for the work we do. It is fair to say that the FBI has had missteps over the years, but these missteps have provided opportunities to improve. As have many corporations, we have established a compliance office to examine vulnerabilities, and to ensure that we have the training and the policies in place to safeguard against those vulnerabilities .Our Privacy and Civil Liberties Unit addresses the legal implications of our investigative and intelligence collection programs, and ensures that we meet all privacy requirements. And in a practice started by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, all New Agents visit the Holocaust Museum to better understand what happens when law enforcement becomes a tool for oppression. These are but a few examples of measures we have in place to ensure that we never lose sight of the rule of law and the safeguards guaranteed to every American by the Constitution…and that we never lose the sacred trust of the people we serve.
The FBI has always adapted to meet new threats, and we must continue to evolve to prevent crime and terrorism, because criminals and terrorists certainly will. But our values can never change. In the end, we in the FBI know that we will be judged not only by our ability to keep Americans safe from crime and terrorism, but also by whether we safeguard the liberties for which we are fighting and maintain the trust of the American peoples’ very proud of the exceptional level of communication the FBI in Indiana has with the Muslim community. I believe we have a relationship built on a firm foundation of trust. But there is always room for improvement and we need to maintain this ongoing dialogue; only by communicating regularly will we keep this relationship where we all want it to be – where we need to be to keep our community safe and strong.. Thanks again to the Muslim Alliance of Indiana for your belief that “peace and understanding are not simply a destination, but a journey.” We seek your help and cooperation. I will be happy to take any questions. (Agent Abbott has given permission for publishing his remarks and photo)