The CIA and Department of Homeland Security abruptly canceled a conference in August on homegrown U.S. radical extremism in what officials close to the issue say was an effort to block two conservative anti-terrorism experts from presenting their views.
The conference was slated for Aug. 10 through 12 at agency headquarters in McLean and was to have been hosted by the CIA Threat Management Unit. It was organized by the intelligence subcommittee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
“The conference topic is a critical one for domestic law enforcement, and the sponsors – in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security – have decided to delay the conference so it can include insights from among other sources, the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism in an updated agenda,” wrote CIA police officer Lt. Joshua Fielder in an email announcing the postponement in early August.
According to people close to the conference, the event was ordered “postponed” after Muslim advocacy groups contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the White House about the scheduled speakers, who included Stephen Coughlin and Steve Emerson, both specialists on the Islamist terror threat.
Mr. Coughlin, a former Pentagon Joint Staff analyst, is one of the most knowledgeable counterterrorism experts specializing in the relationship between Islamic law and terrorism. Mr. Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, is a leading expert on Islamic violent extremism, financing and operations.
One intelligence official said the conference was stopped after the White House learned that Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Emerson were speaking.
This official said that to prevent the two experts from taking part in future conferences, the administration is drafting new guidelines designed to prohibit all U.S. government personnel from teaching classes on Islamic history or doctrine. The new rules also will seek to prohibit the use of federal funds to pay contractors for such training.
“This is a big deal,” former FBI counterintelligence agent David Major said of the postponement. If new guidelines are used to block experts like Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Emerson, “we will be in ‘1984’ with ‘Newspeak’ on our society in total violation of the First Amendment,” Mr. Major said, referring to George Orwell’s classic novel, in which simplified language is used as a tool to support totalitarian rule.