FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday that the bureau has struggled to recruit Somali Americans and other members of key ethnic communities as agents.
The FBI is trying to encourage them to apply for jobs at the bureau, but the efforts haven’t always been fruitful, Mueller said in response to a question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the FBI.
“We have not been as successful as we would like,” Mueller said. “But we continue to press forward and recruit from all segments of the community.”
Somali Americans from Minnesota made national headlines in 2009 when federal authorities brought terrorism charges against about 15 of them for their alleged connection to Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab. The FBI said al-Shabaab was recruiting men from Minnesota to fight in Somalia.
Mueller said members of the Minnesota Somali-American community have been “very cooperative” with the FBI in its efforts to root out terrorism.
“I think that the Somali community in Minneapolis was taken aback by the number of young men who have traveled to Somalia to work with al-Shabaab,” Mueller said.
The FBI has come under fire from all sides — Republicans, Democrats and Muslim Americans — for its handling of terrorism cases involving U.S. citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations last month filed suit against the FBI alleging the bureau improperly targeted Muslims for surveillance.
Mueller told House members this month that the FBI has a “very good relationship” with Muslim Americans. But he acknowledged that FBI actions in terrorism investigations can often be misinterpreted because the classified nature of some probes makes it difficult to provide details about them.
On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about steps the DOJ is taking to protect the Muslim Americans from prejudice and abuse because of their religion. Perez touted several cases in which the DOJ has sought to defend the rights of Muslims to practice their religion freely and not face discrimination.