Trump administration officials pushing to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization face at least one significant obstacle: analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency.
CIA experts have warned that so labeling the decades-old Islamist group “may fuel extremism” and damage relations with America’s allies, according to a summary of a finished intelligence report for the intelligence community and policymakers that was shared with POLITICO by a U.S. official.
The document, published internally on Jan. 31, notes that the Brotherhood—which boasts millions of followers around the Arab world—has “rejected violence as a matter of official policy and opposed al-Qa’ida and ISIS.”
It acknowledges that “a minority of MB [Muslim Brotherhood] members have engaged in violence, most often in response to harsh regime repression, perceived foreign occupation, or civil conflicts.” Noting that there are branches of the group in countries such as Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Tunisia, it cautions that some of America’s allies in the region “probably worry that such a step could destabilize their internal politics, feed extremist narratives, and anger Muslims worldwide.”
“MB groups enjoy widespread support across the Near East-North Africa region and many Arabs and Muslims worldwide would view an MB designation as an affront to their core religious and societal values,” the document continues. “Moreover, a US designation would probably weaken MB leaders’ arguments against violence and provide ISIS and al-Qa’ida additional grist for propaganda to win followers and support, particularly for attacks against US interests.”
The CIA declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment. But the document threatens to pit the agency against a president who has dismissed its intelligence assessments and angered many in the intelligence community when he appeared before the agency’s Memorial Wall and exaggerated the size of the crowd at his inaugural address.
And it would seem to put the agency’s analysts at odds with its new director, Mike Pompeo, who as a member of Congress co-sponsored a bill to ban the Brotherhood and once warned in a radio appearance that Islamist groups were infiltrating the United States. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” Pompeo told host Frank Gaffney, who heads the Center for Security Policy and often promotes a conspiratorial view of Muslims. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”
Even before President Donald Trump took office, outside groups like Gaffney’s and some members of Congress had been pressuring his team to make the designation, a process that usually takes months and requires teams of analysts sifting through reams of intelligence reports to determine whether an organization fits the legal definition of a terrorist organization.