A response to the Bail letter

After Meg Stalcup and I published an article in the Washington Monthly, criticizing badly regulated counterterrorism training for law enforcement in America, some of the trainers who we criticized responded, and a friend of theirs, Joseph M. Bail Jr, wrote a letter claiming to "rebut" our claims. His letter, which you can read in the side panel here, did no such thing. We responded to his letter, rebutting his claims. The response is below.

Joseph M. Bail begins the full text of his response to our article by telling us that he is “mad that the politically motivated, Islam-loving, terrorist-apologizing media continues to paint the Muslim extremists as reasonable, decent people.” 

This is the same confused rhetoric being taught to police officers that our article exposed. We did not paint any such picture, nor did we apologize for terrorism. One of our central arguments is that the type of stereotyping we find in Bail’s letter is counterproductive. America does not become safer when trainers teach police officers to conflate terrorists and Muslims. Quite the contrary: the harassment that results can lead to our most valuable source of information about extremism–the Muslim community itself–drying up. We continue to think that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that it is worthwhile being careful with our choice of words; a care that Bail does not take in his effort to rebut our article.

Regarding the particular claims:

Bail doubles over himself to illustrate John Giduck’s close personal friendship with a former head of the St. Petersburg KGB, a claim of Giduck’s that our story conveys without comment as it has no bearing on his qualifications as a trainer. We did however take considerable efforts to verify Giduck’s training with multiple Russian special forces units. We had a Russian speaker contact the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), which investigated John Giduck's ties to its units with which he claimed to have trained. 

The MVD responded with the information we relayed in the article. The only evidence of training it was able to find was a commercial course that he attended; no one at Vityaz and Rus had heard of him. We did not claim definitively that Giduck had never trained with these units, rather, we claimed that no one there knew anything about him.

We did denounce Giduck's unsubstantiated claim that women were raped during the Beslan siege. To explain why there is no evidence of rape at Beslan, Bail uses an analogy: "Two hundred thousand females are raped in America every year, but I bet he couldn’t give the name of a single one of those either. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to them." His analogy is appalling and inaccurate. Without naming names, we could easily produce evidence of rape in America: medical records, court proceedings, witness testimony. The sole substantiation of rapes at Beslan given by Giduck, as reproduced by Bail, is “that was what everyone was saying”. No witness statements or institutional corroboration are offered, just rumours and vague allusions to a conspiracy of silence shared by the media, the Russian government, and the terrorists. There is no evidence that indicates that there were rapes at Beslan.

The person Giduck suggested we contact when we asked about his Beslan sources was his commercial associate Yuri Ferdigalov; almost all of the people mentioned in Bail’s letter also have a financial interest in Giduck’s continuing success. None are official sources from the Russian government. We are understandably sceptical when he provides people who work with him at Archangel as witnesses to corroborate his stories. 

Bierly, when we recorded, with his permission, an interview with him at his home in November 2009, said that he had been in the Marines for twenty-two years and had done “ten plus years in the black world”. If he in fact meant that those ten years were part of his time in service, then we misunderstood and apologize. 

Contrary to what the trainers claimed to Bail, we were clear that despite our academic backgrounds we were researching an article for publication in the popular press. On November 14, 2010 Craze wrote an email to Hughbank “We are finally finishing up the piece... My editors want a professional opinion on one of the trainers I interviewed.” If Hughbank had no idea that an article was forthcoming, wouldn't this mention of editors and a piece have caused alarm bells to ring? In his response, however, Hughbank is unperturbed that Craze is writing a piece for publication. He is unperturbed because he knew it all along. The other quotes that Hughbank claims he never said are all contained in the transcript of his interview with Craze.

In the longer letter posted on the Archangel website, Bail concludes by asking whether “articles of this nature are attempting to point out the shortcomings of current terrorism training or is it the practice of taqiyya (Islamic Principle of Lying for the Sake of Allah).” We could attempt to assure Bail that we are not covert Muslims attempting to wage a war on America, but for Bail, it seems, the absence of evidence is grounds for certainty. Let it suffice to say that we were not lying, period, and that all of our reporting was carefully fact checked. 

Bail and Giduck, who both train for the Archangel Group, spoke at the fifth annual Homeland Security Professionals Conference in 2010. A recent Political Research Associates report described Giduck telling the audience, "Going back to the time of Mohammed, Muslims’ goal has been to take over the world. They’re looking for lifestyle impact as well as legal impact." Bail is reported to have warned, “The 2001 9/11 attacks were chosen to announce to us that they’re in final chapters of their 1,000 year war”.

It is a disgrace that this is what is being taught about Islam to our law enforcement officers. 

The letter provides further evidence that even someone such as Bail, a former police officer with many years of experience, is capable of playing to the most simplistic stereotypes, and using notions like taqiyya in ways that indicate he has no idea what he is talking about. Bail wants to mount a character defence of his friends and colleagues. That is understandable. His letter highlights, however, the central point of our article. Even if, as Peter Moskos noted in his comment on Bail’s letter, Giduck is everything he says he is, it doesn’t qualify him to say anything about Islam. The idea that because Giduck is a terrorism expert who wrote a doctoral dissertation on hostage siege tactics, he is somehow qualified to speak about Islam assumes an automatic connection between Islam and terrorism that is erroneous and misleading. 

We do not attack the trainers for not being police officers. Counterterrorism training is quite obviously an opportunity to bring outside expertise to departments. Expertise, however, needs to be both real and relevant to the police mandate. It should also be subject to a real system of evaluation, accreditation and auditing. This is what is sorely lacking, and what we sought to bring to public attention.