CIA Memo: Designating Muslim Brotherhood Could ‘Fuel Extremism’
Blake Hounshell, Nahal Tusi, Politico, Feb 8 2017
Trump administration officials pushing to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization face at least one significant obstacle: analysts at the CIA, who have warned that so labeling the decades-old Islamist group “may fuel extremism” and damage relations with Pindostan’s vassals, according to a summary of a finished intelligence report for the intelligence community and policymakers. The document, dated Jan 31, notes that the MB boasts millions of followers around the Arab world and has “rejected violence as a matter of official policy and opposed AQ and ISIS.” It acknowledges:
A minority of MBs have engaged in violence, most often in response to
harshnationalist regime repression, perceived foreign occupation, or civil conflicts.
Noting that there are branches of the group in countries such as Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Tunisia, it cautions:
Some Pindo vassals in the region probably worry that such a step could destabilize their internal politics, feed extremist narratives, and anger Muslims worldwide. MBs enjoy widespread support across the MENA region and many Arabs and Muslims world-wide would view an MB designation as an affront to their core religious and societal values. Moreover, a Pindo designation would probably weaken MB leaders’ arguments against violence and provide ISIS and AQ with additional grist for propaganda to win followers and support, particularly for attacks against Pindosi interests.
The document threatens to pit the agency against a president who has dismissed its intelligence assessments and angered many in the intelligence community when he appeared before the agency’s Memorial Wall and exaggerated the size of the crowd at his inaugural address. And it would seem to put the agency’s analysts at odds with its new DCI ‘Mike’ Pompeo, who as a Congress crittur cosponsored a bill to ban the MB, and once warned in a radio appearance that Islamist groups were infiltrating Pindostan. Pompeo told Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, who often promotes a conspiratorial view of Muslims:
There are organizations and networks here in Pindostan tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways. They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout Pindostan.
Even before Trump took office, outside groups like Gaffney’s and some Congress critturs had been pressuring his team to make the designation,
a process that usually takes months and requires teams of analysts sifting through reams of intelligence reports to determine whether an organization fits the legal definition of a terrorist organization. In January, Ted Cruz and Mario Diaz-Balart re-introduced twin bills that would require the State Dept to inform Congress “whether the MB meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization” and, if not, explain why not. Days before Trump’s inauguration, an anti-Islamist coalition called Faith Leaders for Pindostan held a news event in which speakers repeatedly urged the incoming president to make the designation. Since then, news outlets have tracked a growing debate within the administration over whether Trump should pull the trigger, possibly in the form of an executive order directing the State Dept to evaluate whether the MB meets the necessary legal standard. A State Dept source said:
The White House has contacted the dept’s legal officials as well as multiple bureaux about what would be involved. But momentum seems to have stalled in recent days. Basically, they wanted to know if an executive order would be enough or if there was a process that had to be followed. It received a great deal of pushback, and it looks like the White House team actually looked at the legal requirements to designate a foreign terrorist organization. It’s still lurking, but I haven’t heard it’s on the front burner again.
Former Pindo puffpastries on the MB are highly skeptical that the Trump administration could meet that bar, and scoff at the basic wisdom of the idea. Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Dept’s coordinator for counter-terrorism under Sec State Hillary Clinton (and her good friend Huma Abedin – RB), said:
I think it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. The top reason being that it’s not a terrorist group. A move to treat the MB the same as groups that actually do engage in terrorism could push some Muslims into the arms of more radical extremists. We don’t need more enemies.
Designating the group would also pose serious complications for Pindo diplomacy throughout the Middle East. The MB has loosely affiliated branches throughout the Arab world, and some of them even hold positions of power in certain countries. The head of the government of Morocco is a member of a party aligned with the MB. Ennahdha is affiliated with the MB and part of the ruling coalition in Tunisia. Tom Malinowski, who recently stepped down as Asst Sec State for Democracy Human Rights & Labor in the Obama administration (alongside Hillary & Huma – RB) said:
Depending on how a designation was structured, we could not meet with the Tunisian government going forward. Many of the local councils that
the CIAPindostan works with in Syria have ties to the MB, one of the only sources of organized opposition to Assad. It could damage relations with Turkey, because Erdogan is an avid backer of MB offshootsindependent national bodies around the region.
Will McCants, a former State Dept
senior adviser for countering violent extremism puffpastry for bullshit, said:
It’s not well thought through. It’s a fringe idea that I guess has now made its way into the mainstream.
Trump, despite otherwise evincing little interest in foreign affairs before launching his presidential bid, has been critical of the MB in the past, blasting Obama repeatedly in 2012 for hosting Morsi, who was elected after mass protests ousted Mubarak. Trump tweeted in Feb 2012:
@BarackObama’s budget funds the ‘Arab Spring’ with $800B and the MB in Egypt $1.3B in military aid. He loves radical Islam.
He wrote later in October, one of two dozen tweets on the subject over the course of 2012 and 2013:
Obama now wants to give another $450M to the MB. Money we don’t have going to people that hate us. Moronic.
Morsi was ousted by General Sisi. Trump and Sisi have hit it off. Trump said after they met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA:
There was good chemistry there. He’s a fantastic guy. He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it.
Egypt outlawed the MB in Dec 2013, labeling it a terrorist organization, as did other Pindo vassals in the region, including the Toads and the UAE. Those governments have been pressing Pindostan for years to make a similar designation, but found little traction until Trump’s victory. National security adviser Michael Flynn has described Islam as a cancer and a political ideology rather than a religion. He once wrote on Twitter:
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.
His account has since been deleted. Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and the former head of Breitbart News, has often promoted anti-Muslim activists such as Gaffney, who has accused Obama of being a secret Muslim and is one of the leading advocates for cracking down on alleged MB front groups inside Pindostan. According to the WaPo, a 2007 summary of one of Bannon’s film projects described the MB as “the foundation of modern terrorism.” Even Sec State Rex Tillerson, in his confirmation hearing, associated the MK with more radical groups like AQ and “certain elements within Iran,” likely an allusion to the IRGC (rubbish – RB). Some powderpuffs fear that autocratic Arab states like Egypt could use a terrorist designation to lure Pindostan into endorsing violent crackdowns on their internal critics. Malinowski said:
If there’s no pushback from leadership, I worry that we could be manipulated by countries that are just trying to enlist us in their campaigns against their political opponents.
Benjamin thinks there’s little chance that career powderpuffs inside the Treasury and State Depts would find that the MB, whose leadership in Egypt renounced violence in the 1970s, is a terrorist group. Benjamin said:
Professionals will look at it and say this doesn’t meet our criteria. With the system as it is currently configured, this would not pass muster.
One problem is that it’s hard to define what the Brotherhood is, given its loose structure and culture of secrecy. Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Dept analyst now with the FDF (neo-PNAC – RB) said:
What you have is a disparate network of groups that may or may not meet criteria.
Schanzer thinks that what he calls the MB “mothership” in Egypt wouldn’t qualify, but other parts of the MB such Yemen’s Islah party might qualify as terrorist if the Trump administration took a more targeted approach. Otherwise, he says, it’s trying to hit a grand slam and it’s probably going to lead to a strikeout. Eric Trager of WINEP believes the Trump administration is right to be concerned about the MB. He says:
Ideologically, I’d say it’s closest to being a hate group. These are not good guys. These are not moderate politicians. They support, on an ideological level, terrorism. They cooperate with terrorists. They give a platform for terrorists. But there is not sufficient evidence to show they send their own members to commit terrorism, and that is the standard for a designation. … But it couldn’t control Egypt, where it is from, where it has existed for over 80 years, and where it could not keep control for more than a year. It sure as hell is not going to take over Pindostan.
Still, advocacy groups in Pindostan are worried they might be singled out or accused of having ties to the MB, and are preparing to mount aggressive defenses if necessary. They note that the Cruz/Diaz-Balart legislation, like the earlier bill sponsored by Pompeo, explicitly mentions CAIR, which Gaffney and others have accused of being a MB front. Hina Shamsi, a lawyer at the ACLU, was recently detained and questioned by Customs and Border Patrol while returning from a trip abroad. She says:
Pindosi Muslim organizations have been under scrutiny for a long time. And it’s important to emphasize that neither the Bush nor the Obama administration gave in to what is a bigoted effort by people who were once in the fringe. The deep concern here is that designation of the MB, whatever that is and how it is defined (which is a complicated question in itself), could result in government attacks on Pindosi Muslim civil society by opening the doors to the use of over-broad and unfair legal regimes relating to designation and designated entities.
Robert McCaw, government affairs director at CAIR, said that groups like his were the real target of the anti-MB campaign. McCaw said:
The Pindosi Islamophobia network and its political allies are pushing this designation to create a new era of religious McCarthyism where being a Pindosi Muslim or an advocacy organization pushing back against anti-Muslim rhetoric is enough to disqualify you from civic participation.
Even some of the Brotherhood’s biggest detractors, however, aren’t too worried about its alleged influence inside Pindostan, and urge the Trump administration to focus on more realistic threats.