FBI, Pentagon vow to improve screening of chaplains

Senators urge vigilance in monitoring extremism


WASHINGTON - FBI and Pentagon officials promised yesterday to improve the screening of Muslim chaplains in the military after members of a Senate subcommittee complained that officials were not doing enough to monitor the influence of Islamic extremist beliefs.

Charles Abell, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel, told a Senate subcommittee that the Defense Department has begun a more extensive vetting process after a Muslim chaplain, Army Capt. James J. "Yousef" Yee, was charged last week with improperly handling classified information.

Yee, who counseled many of the 650 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is one of 12 Muslim chaplains in the armed services. All were recommended and certified by two organizations, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council. Both groups' finances have come under investigation for possible links to terrorist groups.

Abell said none of the other Muslim chaplains is under suspicion.

Members of both parties on the Senate judiciary subcommittee on terrorism also warned that prisons should be more vigilant about the brand of Islam being preached in those institutions.

Prisons "are becoming a ready-made forum for recruiting disaffected citizens," said Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the subcommittee chairman. "Our government needs to take this growing threat extremely seriously and take immediate steps to curtail it."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, cited the case of Jose Padilla, who converted to Islam in prison, met with al-Qaida terrorists and is accused of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States.

Abell and John Pistole, the FBI's assistant director of counterterrorism, conceded under sharp questioning by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, that their rules for screening individuals and groups for the military's chaplain program needed improvement.

"To our regret, we know that pre-employment screening is not foolproof," Abell said.

After the hearing, Abell said the Pentagon would begin "looking for alternative groups" for recruiting future chaplains. He said the two groups that now certify chaplains were the only two that wanted to get involved.

Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also said his department was reviewing its policies for recruiting and monitoring chaplains.

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