A session with too little substanceFBI Director Comey offers little to satisfy his invited audience
A couple of weeks ago I was invited, among many others, to a meeting with FBI Director James Comey in Indianapolis. I believe I was invited because of some of my community work here in Fort Wayne and because I am a 2014 FBI Citizens Academy graduate. I drove two hours each way for what ended up being about a 25-minute address by and Q&A session with the director.
Comey, who is a 6-foot, 8-inch towering figure, entered the room where 20 community members representing multiple ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds and various levels of community engagement were seated. He sat at a designated chair in front of the group, welcomed us all and said he is here to talk about whatever we want to talk about. “Heck, I’ll even talk about the (Hillary) Clinton emails,” he said, and proceeded to discuss why he decided to write to Congress on Oct. 28, announcing the agency’s review of new emails relating to the case. He reasoned that it basically came down to “making a tough decision now or a tougher decision later”; basically either discuss the findings and be transparent or face questions about them later.
That set the tone for us in the audience. He was here to dismiss allegations about his supposed effect on the outcome of the election. Fair enough. He is the director and his agency called the meeting, so he is certainly within his right to set the tone. Except, I was not going to let a meeting with the FBI director go without at least an attempt at making some effort toward getting answers about issues of particular concern to me. So as he was finishing up his introductory remarks about how difficult the job is (which I say without any hint of sarcasm, I do not envy him) and how he is blessed to work with strong teams across the U.S. (I can say with all honesty that our local team here has been great and very responsive), he concluded by saying he is grateful for us who are involved in our communities and who can help the FBI’s work and image.
He then opened the floor for questions and I raised my hand. After introducing myself and the community I supposedly represent, I asked: “Some members of the (Muslim) community find it really hard to trust the FBI, especially with what we are hearing and reading about entrapment cases. How do you think I can bridge the two images (an FBI that is there for the people vs an FBI that sets people up)?” His answer, at least as I understood it, is that sometimes these are necessary measures that need to be taken and that at the end of the day we should all get to know each other better, build strong relationships and have open channels of communications (as various communities within a society and as citizens with the FBI). After that, other members of the audience asked a couple of questions, thanked him and the FBI profusely for the work they do and we all gathered in the lobby for a photo op.
The interaction left me with more to be desired. I reached out to a friend from Indianapolis who was also at the meeting, and I asked him whether he felt an air of dismissiveness in the director’s opening remarks and in his answer to my question. My friend felt the same way and further remarked that when someone asked Comey “what keeps you up at night?,” the first thing he talked about was the “evil that you cannot see” being the “bunch of savages called Islamic State.”
We all agree that ISIS is a threat but, my friend remarked, he would have thought the FBI would be more nuanced and balanced – especially knowing that, according to the global terrorism database at the University of Maryland, out of more than 200 terrorist attacks in the U.S. during 2000-14, about six were identified with or claimed by an Islamist group.
I certainly appreciated the opportunity to meet with Director Comey and would do it again without hesitation. I believe in dialogue and engagement on all levels. But I walked away from that meeting with perhaps more questions than answers.
Why is it that the director of the FBI would choose to address, in his opening remarks, the Clinton email issue, knowing full well that the audience he is speaking to had representatives of ethnic and religious minorities that have been the target of vicious hate crimes? Why, when asked about an issue that has shaken the trust of many citizens in his agency, did he dismiss that concern with a generic “we gotta do what we gotta do” kind of response?
How am I, as a Muslim-American, supposed to ease the fears and concerns of many Muslim-Americans who have been the target of intense hate, scrutiny and distrust by some members of our society and, more importantly, by members of government agencies that are supposed to serve and protect all? What does it say about the priorities of the FBI when the answer on the tip of the tongue of its director to the question of what keeps him up at night is a concern that is disproportionate in its magnitude to the actual threat?
I am a bridge-builder and will continue to work to improve the society in which we live. I am not, however, a mouthpiece who will simply parrot what I am told. I will challenge and I will question methods because that is what democracy is all about.
Originally posted by the Journal Gazette on December 25th, 2016
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