Are FBI & State Dept blacklisting Asian American and Muslim employees?

Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese American scientist wrongly accused by the federal government for espionage, in a case widely criticized as based largely on anti-Asian stereotypes.
Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese American scientist wrongly accused by the federal government for espionage, in a case widely criticized as based largely on anti-Asian stereotypes.

This is easily the most underreported story of institutionalized anti-Asian and anti-Muslim racism of 2014.

In the months following 9/11, the United States shifted many of its priorities towards counter-terrorism efforts targeting overseas groups and countries in much of Asia and the Middle East. With that new focus came news of broad recruiting efforts; recruits fluent in Asian and Middle Eastern languages became hot commodities for the intelligence community. Many federal agencies launched programs specifically aimed at attracting agents with foreign language capabilities. From a 2012 FBI report to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security:

The FBI’s Foreign Language Program has made great strides in its ability to meet the rising demand of language needs since September 11, 2001 and has built a sustained and robust program. The program has moved forward through specialized training, increased hiring, retention, technology, and collaboration. The FBI has invested in multiple strategies to increase its foreign language capabilities.

Following 9/11, the FBI launched a $1.5 million recruitment program that has reportedly significantly enhanced the language diversity of its incoming agents. For many Asian Americans, this new federal focus represented a welcome inroads to the FBI, the State Department, and other historically White federal agencies; by 2012, 4.2% of the FBI’s special agents were Asian American.

However, new reports are suggesting that simultaneous to the federal government’s focus on language diversity and non-White recruiting, secretive policies of racial profiling have subjected Asian American and Muslim American employees of the FBI and the State Department to profound, unreported discrimination.

Foreign service officer Andrew Ou was denied an overseas posting to Japan by the State Department. (Photo credit: Washington Post / Andrew Ou)
Foreign service officer Andrew Ou was denied an overseas posting to Japan by the State Department. (Photo credit: Washington Post / Andrew Ou)

News of a government-wide blacklisting policy targeting certain federal agents, particularly Asian Americans, was first reported by the Washington Post in 2013. That agency revealed that a series of post-9/11 “guidelines” have been used by the State Department to blacklist certain employees, particularly Asian Americans. Specifically, a White House memo required that federal agencies carefully screen employees for potential “foreign influence” prior to granting security clearance. The Washington Post reported that the State Department has interpreted this memo in a way that has left several Asian American employees suddenly precluded from serving in overseas tours, based largely on the fact that they have extended family living overseas.

60% of Asian Americans are first generation immigrants, with an additional 30% second generation.

The preclusion policy resulted in a culture of distrust towards Asian American employees, most of whom were treated as de facto security risks based on race or ethnicity, regardless of their job performance. Reports the Washington Post:

The greatest harm of the preclusion policy, besides losing the benefit the skills of native language speakers, may be how it projects an image of distrust. Several foreign service officers brought up the historical example of Japanese Americans being interned during World War II, as well as the persecution of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist who was wrongfully accused of leaking information to the Chinese. Asians are no strangers to the suspicion that they might be serving another master.

For example: When Kendrick Liu was applying to serve on the D.C.-based desk that deals with China and Mongolia, he says he was asked to submit information about relatives who were foreign-born U.S. citizens, and was ultimately denied the position on security grounds (Diplomatic Security had previously forced him to forego an assignment in Hong Kong as well).

“It seemed to me they were making distinctions between American citizens and American citizens who were’t born in the United States, which in my mind seemed odd,” Liu says.  “Because as I was taught to understand it, an American citizen is an American citizen, period.”

And then there’s Andrew Ou, a Korean-born officer who spent time on a fellowship program in Japan. Years after being told he couldn’t serve in Japan for security reasons, he requested his files under the Freedom of Information Act. They contained copious notes about work he’d done for a Japanese official, as well as a Japanese girlfriend. The preclusion was later reversed, but barely.

“I’m American, and this whole process challenged that concept,” Ou says. “I was surprised, I was angry, I was bitter.”

Today, the New York Times reports that such anti-Asian discrimination is not limited to the State Department; a similar preclusion policy has resulted in the blacklisting of Asian American and Muslim employees at the FBI.

Employees in the program — called the Post-Adjudication Risk Management plan, or PARM — face more frequent security interviews, polygraph tests, scrutiny of personal travel, and reviews of, in particular, electronic communications and files downloaded from databases.

Some of these employees, including Muslim and Asian personnel who have been hired to fill crucial intelligence and counterterrorism needs, say they are being penalized for possessing the very skills and background that got them hired. They are notified about their inclusion in the program and the extra security requirements, but are not told precisely why they have been placed in it and apparently have no appeal or way out short of severing all ties with family and friends abroad.

The Obama administration appears interested in making a history of setting superficial diversity priorities while simultaneously enacting policies that introduce or reinforce existing discrimination against non-Whites. Last month, the Obama administration announced heightened restrictions on certain federal policies of racial profiling, but failed to do anything to challenge some of the most common racial profiling faced by Americans: anti-“Brown people” scrutiny at the nation’s commercial airports and borders. Muslim and South Asian advocacy groups were understandably infuriated by the administration’s ongoing support for this unconstitutional and useless policy of discrimination and excessive scrutiny.

In the same vein, over ten years, the federal government has nominally advocated for fair hiring practices for federal employees, and has even actively recruited bilingual non-White special agents in the State Department and The FBI. In 2011, President Obama made history by issuing an Executive Order declaring workforce diversity in the federal government a major administrative priority. In it, the President stated:

Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all.  We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.

…To realize more fully the goal of using the talents of all segments of society, the Federal Government must continue to challenge itself to enhance its ability to recruit, hire, promote, and retain a more diverse workforce.  Further, the Federal Government must create a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to participate to their full potential.

Yet, the US government has simultaneously created a new blacklist for the Millennial era.

It has implemented a system of condoned discrimination that targets certain (non-White) employees as assumed security risks based predominantly on the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype that casts Asian Americans as innately untrustworthy, inscrutable and disloyal. Asian Americans, who are predominantly foreign-born or second generation entirely as a consequence of a history of exclusionary immigration laws only reversed in 1965, are being penalized by the FBI and State Department basically for being Asian American.

This is so fucking racist, and no one is really talking about it.

Seriously, how has this story not yet broken the internet?

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