Racial profiling, anti-Muslim rhetoric and policing measures that violate civil rights would harm law enforcement efforts to stop homegrown “lone wolf” terrorists like the gunman who murdered 49 in Orlando last week, the former deputy head of the FBI told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“I won’t get into a politician’s comments on racial profiling, but I don’t think racial profiling is the direction for the FBI to take,” said Timothy P. Murphy, adding: “That’s a way to destroy the trust in these communities.”
The former deputy head of the FBI spoke to the Post
while in Israel for the 6th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference at Tel Aviv University. Just a day earlier, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump drew flak for saying that America should adopt racial profiling in its fight against terrorism because “you look at Israel and you look at others, and they do it and they do it successfully.”
The comments drew support on Monday from Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who said there were security reasons for the practice, and that racial profiling was a de facto practice in the United States.
“I think you can profile threats and certain behaviors of people, but if you look at our threats, they aren’t coming from a certain place in the United States, they’re coming from all different places,” Murphy said.
Asked about recent rhetoric against Muslims in the US presidential race, Murphy argued that the rhetoric is “absolutely detrimental to law enforcement efforts. When you go into these neighborhoods, people aren’t going to trust you. You need to strengthen your outreach and build trust.”
Murphy expressed support for the approach that fighting terrorism and extremism involves addressing the social issues widely believed to fuel them. “You have to have community involvement, and if people in these communities don’t feel that they have economic opportunities and if they don’t see a future they’re going to be more susceptible to influences over the Internet, they’re going to be more susceptible to another path.”
He said such an approach is similar to that which the FBI has adopted for fighting the drug trade and organized crime, and that it’s largely based on reaching out to communities and building trust.
“I don’t think it’s being soft, it’s what smart law enforcement does – let them know we’re in this fight together. I was a police officer before. You want community involvement, and you want them to come to you.”
Murphy added that from a law enforcement standpoint, “it’s easy to be an occupying force; it’s not easy to be in law enforcement and bridge the gap between the bad people and the good people.”
Murphy joined the FBI in 1988 at age 26, after a couple of years as a patrol cop in a Detroit suburb, and after a short stint in the business world, including as an executive with Little Caesar’s Pizza. His career in the agency saw him as one of the supervisors of the investigation of the September 11th attacks, as well as postings in FBI field offices in Washington, Newark, Tampa and Cincinnati, before he was made deputy chief in 2010. He has experience investigating counterterrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and also cyber crime. After retiring from the agency in 2011, he worked for a number of businesses in the cybersecurity world, as well as an Israeli venture capital firm.
His visit to Israel comes as the FBI has faced criticism – from inside the United States but also among experts and pundits in Israel and beyond – for their failure to stop terrorist Omar Mateen before he murdered 49 people in an attack on an LGBT club in Orlando, Florida last week.
Murphy says that while the success of the attack shows the investigation did fail, many of the critics don’t understand the FBI’s work or what took place in the investigation of Mateen.
Regardless, he said, “the FBI and the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] have to be right 100 percent of the time – terrorists only have to be right once.”
Murphy said he believes that the war on terrorism could perhaps be assisted by loosening some of the restrictions on the FBI, including how long they are allowed to investigate a private citizen without finding probable cause. In the case of Mateen, Murphy said they investigated him for the six months allowed by the attorney general, and then received approval for an additional four months, but eventually there just wasn’t enough to keep the case open.
“I think people need to decide what’s the right balance between civil liberties, and the needs of law enforcement to go after these lone wolf terrorists (Murphy prefers the term “lone rat” favored by FBI director James Comey). Maybe you don’t need these rigid time lines, and maybe you don’t have these hard deadlines but leave them open, be more flexible.”
That said, Murphy clarified that he doesn’t believe that the United States would or should allow the implementation of certain investigative measures used by the Shin Bet in Israel, such as administrative detention, which allow the jailing of security suspects without charge.
“If you wanted to take off the restrictions they’d probably be more effective, but you’d have a lot of the wrong people in jail,” he said, adding: “I’m not saying that Israelis shouldn’t use [administrative detention], but in America I don’t think it could work. It’s too big, the population is too big, and threat is coming from within. Also, it violates all of your personal rights.”
One clear measure he said could help the FBI is funding and manpower, as the agency’s 36,000 employees are “extremely under-resourced,” and are required to deal with a massive array of responsibilities from terrorism to organized crime to corruption, which stretches their capabilities.
The workload became far more demanding after the September 11th attacks, as the terrorist threat facing America morphed from directed operatives deployed by al-Qaida and other groups, to lone wolf individuals who had “self-radicalized” and taken up arms.
Murphy said there were homegrown violent extremists in Israel before 2011, but in the past five years they and the foreign travel threat – extremists who traveled abroad to the Middle East for training and jihad and return to their home countries – have become the biggest domestic terrorist threats, requiring adaptability and avoiding the pratfalls of the “lack of imagination” that has often affected law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
As of late, and in particular since ISIS first rose to prominence in the summer of 2014, the lack of imagination has clashed with true fear and almost nonstop media coverage of the Islamic State and their acts of barbarism in the Middle East and beyond. They have become a sort of sum-of-allfears for many in the West, but Murphy says that at the end of the day, he doesn’t believe the fear is exaggerated.
“I would’ve said that prior to the past few years there was more fear than was necessary, when you look at the pure number of people who died in the US from terror and not violent crime. Today I think we have the right amount of concern. There are thousands of investigations in every state in the United States that proves that it is a concern.”