When Faisal Gill Googles his name, the first page of results tells the world he’s linked to terrorists. The Northern Virginiastan blog (“monitoring how Islam is subverting public institutions in Northern Virginia and the greater DC metro area”) lists the many “concerns about Faisal Gill.” Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch reprints an article from 2004 by the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney which calls Gill an “associate of groups sympathetic to radical Islamists.”
There is a problem: Most of what you read about Faisal Gill is not true. In 2004, as policy director at the Department of Homeland Security’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division, Gill was investigated by the department’s inspector general over the charge that he’d hidden his relationship to the American Muslim Council and the Islamic Institute. He hadn’t actually hidden it. But six years after he was cleared, he can’t shake the story.
“It’s on the Internet,” Gill says. “It makes me look like I’ve done something wrong. I get involved in politics,” he says—he lost by only 499 votes in his 2007 campaign for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates—”it comes up again.” He points out that he has a letter from the inspector general, dated 2005, announcing that he “found no evidence to suggest you falsified or intentionally omitted” information in his DHS documents.
“You think that’d be enough,” says Gill.
Gill has largely left politics, but his story’s relevant again because of the latest skirmish in an intra-conservative feud that started shortly after 9/11. At this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, David Horowitz used his time at the podium to announce that there had been an infiltration—American Conservative Union board members Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist had “carried water” for terrorists. Khan’s father, Mahboob, had “held a fund-raiser for Ayman al-Zawahiri” at his mosque in 1995.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has been wildly successful in its plan to become part of America’s civil culture and to infiltrate the institutions of America’s civil government,” said Horowitz, “including the White House and both political parties, and the conservative movement as well. … Sponsored by his longtime patron Grover Norquist, who has been a pillar of the conservative movement, Suhail Khan was given a White House appointment in the Bush administration and facilitated [convicted terrorist Abdul Rahman] Alamoudi’s access to the president. Suhail then became an undersecretary of Transportation, where he received a top security clearance.”
There were a lot of problems with that speech (“I was an assistant to the secretary for policy and he made me an undersecretary,” Khan says), but it was the first some conservatives had heard of all this. Horowitz, it turned out, was speaking because Frank Gaffney hadn’t been allowed to speak. Gaffney had been saying stuff like this about Khan and Norquist since 2003, starting with a lengthy article that ran in Horowitz’s magazine. In 2004, he was saying similar things about Faisal Gill.
Are Gaffney and Horowitz completely wrong? No. But they’ve built a hell of a case on a small amount of information. Nobody now disputes that Abdul Rahman Alamoudi, a naturalized American citizen who was born in Yemen, was a supporter of terrorism. He founded the American Muslim Council in 1990, and donated to or served on the boards of other Islamic-American organizations, mining connections to Democrats and conservatives. One day he’d speak at a rally and praise Hamas and Hezbollah; another day he’d schmooze with politicians. He got away with it until he was arrested for a scheme to take money from Libya to assassinate Saudis, and he’s now serving time in federal prison.
“When I first met Alamoudi, we were in the offices of [Norquist’s] Americans for Tax Reform, along with John Sununu and his father,” remembers Gill. It was 2001. “I’m not going to lie, the guy was a huge figure, a huge Muslim figure, but I don’t think he’d know me if he saw me.”
That’s one of the problems. The answer would be the same if Gill (and Khan) were intimately aware of what Alamoudi was up to, or if they were duped. The evidence suggests that he was duped, and Khan was at least partly duped. As David Frum explains in a series of articles detailing the Gaffney-Khan-everybody-else feud, the Bush White House did use Khan to bring influential Muslims to the White House, but it bottled its outreach strategy. It had to—the charges and associations were toxic.
Gill’s situation illustrates just how toxic they were. In early 2004, a few months after Alamoudi was arrested, Gill was informed by his bosses at the Department of Homeland Security that his name had come up in the investigation. Indeed, he’d worked communications for the American Muslim Council for a while; he’d been quoted by reporters as a spokesman; he’d put his work for the AMC, then being investigated for terror ties, on his public financial disclosure form, as well as his work for the Islamic Institute, another group with Alamoudi connections. He was told to leave work for a week. He came back and took a polygraph. He passed; he went back to work.
That didn’t end anything. In June, Gill was informed that Mary Jacoby was writing a story for Salon about the investigation. He planned to talk, he says, but was dissuaded by DHS, who also refused to make his security clearance public. On June 22, Jacoby reported that he was “briefly removed from his job in March when the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered he had failed to disclose his association with [Abdul Rahman] Alamoudi,” and that “the omission of the information on his ‘Standard Form 86’ national security questionnaire is a potential felony violation.”
True, he’d gotten a security clearance and hadn’t mentioned the AMC job on that paperwork. The rest of his paperwork confirmed that he worked there. This didn’t stop the inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, from opening an investigation into his case, supported by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. (Ervin wrote in an e-mail to me that he didn’t remember much about this.)
Gaffney was relieved. “I hope that the concerns that the Gill affair represents,” he said, “will compel a far more comprehensive review of the Bush administration’s relations with groups associated in various ways and degrees to Islamist organizations and activities.”
It did and it didn’t. Gaffney’s criticism of radical influence and Muslim Brotherhood links in the United States is consistent; when there are new convictions of radicals trying to influence American politics, the critique expands. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., whose Homeland Security committee is about to hold hearings on the influence of radical Islam, has a critique that resembles Gaffney’s. That’s worrisome to the people who keep getting accused of infiltrating the federal government on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“First I was part of the ‘Wahabi Lobby,’ ” says Suhail Khan, sarcastically. “I was influencing government policy on behalf of the Saudis. That was one of the lines of attack. Then I was associated with Alamoudi. Now the latest is that I’m associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The association, once made, is impossible to escape. It captures radicals, but it can just as easily capture people who didn’t know who they were meeting with.
“I was shocked when Alamoudi was arrested,” says Gill. “If you’re going to hold yourself out as a Muslim leader you have an obligation not to do what he did. It tars and feathers people who have any associations with you, even tangentially. Obviously.”