FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Wednesday said the bureau is continuing investigations into religious extremists who may be involved in terrorism aside from the nationwide community outreach programs to ethnic and religious groups.
Asked during a conference of intelligence experts about the FBI’s handling of U.S. Muslim groups involved in subversion or “stealth jihad,” the FBI director said monitoring such groups is sensitive.
“It is a delicate issue and it is dependent upon individuals, they are quite obviously, not just Muslim, not just Arab-American, the Sikh-American communities but individuals that may be under investigation, that may have participated in supporting terrorism and we have to be sure we identify, understand those persons and to the extent they step over the line, they are indicted and prosecuted,” Mr. Mueller said.
“On the other hand, it is tremendously important for us to develop relationships with the 99.9 percent of the Muslim community, the Arab community, the Sikh community who are every bit as patriotic as the people in this room.”
Mr. Mueller also was asked about the FBI’s inclusion of a Hamas-linked cleric who took part in an FBI community outreach program called Citizens’ Academy.
The cleric, Kifah Mustapha, took part in a recent Citizens’ Academy program of 30 business, community and religious leaders in Quantico, Va., who visited FBI headquarters and the National Counterterrorism Center, raising security questions among critics of the program.
Mr. Mustapha was identified in court papers four years ago as among more than 240 unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism trial in Texas that involved illicit funding of Hamas.
“Let me tell you the Citizens’ Academies we carry on throughout the country in every one of our offices, they have been a terrific tool for exposing the FBI to a variety of communities,” he said. “I will tell you we look at the backgrounds of individuals who participate in the Citizens’ Academies.”
Mr. Mueller noted that the six-week programs are separate from “the investigations that we may be handling.”
“So I am not going to talk about any particular individual but I can tell you that that portion of our outreach is tremendously important and we do look.”
The FBI director also said changes in federal law are needed to help agents with communications surveillance during counterterrorism and other criminal investigations.
In some cases, communications companies would not provide communications intercepts to the FBI in response to court orders.
The Obama administration is currently considering plans to force communications companies to provide uncoded copies of encoded telephone, e-mail and computer messages to law enforcement.
Mr. Mueller said he disagreed that there is a built-in tension between national security needs and protecting liberties.
“We have a right to privacy, but we also have a right to ride the subways without the threat of bombings. … It is a question of balance.”
• Eli Lake contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire services reports.