FBI chief absent from DC terror summit

FBI Director James Comey.(Reuters / Brian Snyder)
Vague language and the absence of America’s top law enforcement official at the White House anti-extremist summit have raised questions about President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting terrorism even among the administration’s supporters.

At the much-promoted summit on “countering violent extremism” (CVE), Obama called for addressing “root issues” he argued were exploited by extremists, from poverty to hopelessness, humiliation, and resentment. He also rejected all talk of a “clash of civilizations,” asserting that America is “not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

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To that end, the “CVE” summit explored a “bottom-up approach” of countering extremism, based on the notion of working with local officials and communities. This was reflected in prioritizing relations with “community leaders, local law enforcement, private sector innovators, and others,” an unnamed Obama administration official told the New York Times.

Though Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson attended the summit, notably absent was FBI director James B. Comey, the most senior US official in charge of preventing terrorist attacks. According to the New York Times’ source, the omission was deliberate “because the administration did not want the event too focused on law enforcement issues.” The FBI declined to comment.

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This did not stop other countries from sending in their top law-enforcement officials to the conference, including Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The CVE summit was reportedly developed from a pilot program by the US Department of Justice, involving “comprehensive local strategies” to combat extremism while improving trust between law enforcement and Muslim communities in the United States.

According to the New York Times, though, “many of the strategies listed by the FBI” in a memo published on the web several months ago “appear similar to ones mentioned at the meeting,” prompting the paper to wonder “who in the government is in charge of the anti-extremist effort.”

The FBI chief’s absence has bolstered criticism of the meeting as “ineffectual and irrelevant,” and missing “immediate and tangible” solutions to stop terrorists. Last week, however, Obama called for renewed congressional authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL), the jihadist group that has come to control large areas of Iraq and Syria.