Trust of U.S. Arabs is sought

Times Staff Writer

Senior Homeland Security officials told a Senate panel Wednesday that they were having a hard time employing enough interpreters and analysts to counter domestic terrorist threats and that they needed to do more to reach out to American Arabs and Muslims.

They also warned that some American Muslims were at risk of becoming radicalized and might try to execute homegrown terrorist attacks of the sort carried out on London subways and buses in 2005.

And even though they said they were aware of the sensitivity of the situation, Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials acknowledged that they did not fully understand the radicalization process or know the size of the problem.

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, they said the department had taken steps to better communicate with Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans but said more needed to be done to build trust and encourage them to enter public service.

“We believe that a critical element of our strategy for securing this country is to build a level of communication, trust and confidence that is unprecedented in our nation’s history,” said Daniel W. Sutherland, the department’s officer for civil rights and civil liberties.


Chertoff said recruiting interpreters and analysts was “always a challenge” in part because of competition from the private sector and other government agencies.

“I want to make sure we continue to have a pool of recruits that is sufficient to let us satisfy our needs, and I think we’re in a very competitive environment,” he said.

Sutherland said department officials had developed relationships with members of the American Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian communities in cities nationwide, including Los Angeles. But he emphasized that all levels of government “have to work hard to deepen the engagement” with American Muslims, noting that the majority of that group wants nothing to do with extremism.

Several senators agreed. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said American Muslims were “deeply offended” by efforts to radicalize their faith.

“The signals that the top levels of our government send around the world about the way we view the Muslim faith may be the most powerful weapon we have against terrorism,” she said.