US President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has asked two Cabinet departments for the names of government officials working on programs to counter violent extremism, according to a document seen by Reuters and US officials. The requests to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security involve a set of programs that seek to prevent violence by extremists of any stripe, including recruitment by militant Islamist groups within the United States and abroad.
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Reuters could not determine why the Trump team asked for these names. The Trump team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump has frequently criticized President Barack Obama for not doing enough to battle Islamic militants and for his refusal to use the term “radical Islam” to describe Islamic State and other militant groups. Some career officials said they feared the incoming administration may be looking to undo the work that the Obama administration has done on countering violent extremism.
“They’re picking a few issues to ask for people’s names,” said one government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, reflecting wider fears that those who worked on such issues could be marginalized by the new administration.
Earlier this month, Trump representatives had asked the US Energy Department for the names of staffers who worked on climate change policy. The White House expressed concern that it may have been an attempt to target civil servants, including scientists and lawyers. The Energy Department balked at providing names and a Trump spokesman disavowed the request. The State Department declined to comment on specific requests from the Trump transition team. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
In a December 9 email, Trump representatives at the State Department sought a list of positions in the counterterrorism bureau’s office of countering violent extremism. “Please indicate names of people serving in those roles and status (political or career),” the email said, referring to political appointees and career civil servants.
Three US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a similar request had been made to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In that case, the Trump transition team asked for the names of members of an interagency task force on countering violent extremism that the Obama administration established in January, the officials said.
According to a January 8 DHS statement, the task force falls under the leadership of DHS and the Department of Justice, and includes officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center and other government agencies. Several of Trump’s top national security advisers have cast the fight against Islamic militants as an existential conflict between civilizations, according to a review of their writings and public remarks.
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for White House national security adviser, said in a post on Twitter earlier this year, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” Some counterterrorism experts say that such rhetoric can be used by militant groups to recruit, and will alienate Muslim communities whose help is needed to prevent violence.
A US official said their guess was that the Trump team will likely rebrand Obama’s generic fight against violent extremism into a specific battle against Islamic radicalization
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that the department would be cautious about providing names of employees associated with specific issues, but left open the possibility of providing names on an organizational basis. It was unclear whether the State Department shared the names of the officials in the office on countering violent extremism or whether Homeland Security officials provided names.
“Without getting into the specifics of information either requested by the transition team or provided by the Department, I can tell you that … I know of no requests that have been denied,” a senior State Department official said.