This is Part II of a two-part series about teaching counter-terrorism at Broward College. To read Part I, click here.
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Teaching local police officers how best to do their duty is an important job. But no one seems to know who is responsible for vetting instructors or setting course work standards at Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety.
The dean of the Institute says the state is responsible. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, says that Dean Linda Wood is wrong.
“The onus is on the training center to ‘vet’ the instructor and the course materials that he is using,” said Glen Hopkins, an FDLE bureau chief.
The issue arose as controversy has surrounded counterterrorism instructor Sam Kharoba, who holds state certification clinics for Broward’s law enforcement officers and others at the Institute formerly known as the Broward Police Academy.
As Broward Bulldog reported last week, critics say his teachings equate to ethnic and religious profiling. Civil libertarians and the U.S. Department of Justice have rejected such techniques as unconstitutional and discriminatory, and South Florida’s Muslims says they encourage police officers to violate Muslims’ civil rights.
“The content of this training has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with counterterrorism and it has everything to do with the myths and stereotypical Google engine scholar propaganda against Muslims,” said Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. “Obviously, the Muslim community takes issue with that.”
Terrorism and issue in Broward
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon brought the issue of terrorism home to Broward.
South Florida was a base for Egyptian-born lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, who authorities said lived for 14 months in Coral Springs and Hollywood. He and other 9/11 hijackers lived in South Florida and trained at flight schools in the state. In April 2001, a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy issued Atta a traffic ticket in Tamarac for driving without a license.
But Broward’s connections to terrorism are broader. In 2010, alleged al-Qaeda member Adnan El Shukrijumah, who studied at Broward College before climbing the ranks of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorism organization, was charged with plotting attacks on the New York subway system. The U.S. State Department has a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.
In May, federal agents arrested Izhar Khan, the imam at a Margate mosque, according to news reports. He and others were charged with financially supporting the Taliban in Pakistan.
There have been additional Broward and South Florida connections to Islamic terrorism since 9/11. And in the past decade, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety has focused on training law enforcement in counterterrorism.
Extremism expert Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama said Kharoba uses Americans’ heightened concern about terrorism.
“He’s ginning up this fear of Muslims based on a fear of terrorism,” said Beirich, the center’s director of research. “It seems to me the real problem is the agencies that are hiring him.”
Hiring a counterterrorism teacher
Florida Statutes require law enforcement officers to take 40 hours of training every four years as a condition of their employment. Each year, Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety serves about 2,500 officers by offering 150-300 courses.
The Institute learned of Kharoba’s courses from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to Broward College spokesperson Aileen Izquierdo. Even the curriculum was provided by FDLE, Dean Wood said.
But the FDLE says the Institute, one of 41 certified training centers in the state, has the final say. “They’ve got the decision as to what training they ultimately put on,” said FDLE’s Hopkins, bureau chief of standards for the agency’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.
Kharoba’s course is considered specialized, one of three FDLE course classifications, so the training centers that offer it receive leeway to tailor the curriculum, according to Hopkins. “There’s a lot of latitude that’s given to them in creating these things,” he said of specialized courses.
Hopkins, who said he had never heard of Kharoba, also said that instructors must take a 64-hour training course but that some may be exempted from the requirement. He did not know whether Kharoba was exempt and told Broward Bulldog to ask the Institute of Public Safety. Wood said she hires contract vendors like Kharoba based on their experience.
Broward College has hired Kharoba at least nine times since 2006, paying him $6,000 or more for each two- or three-day course, according to his contract with the college.
Generally, FDLE funds training offered by state-certified centers with public dollars. But public records show that since 2007, the Institute of Public Safety has paid Kharoba with grant money obtained from the U.S. Department of Education: Broward College received $287,000 in 2009 and $357,000 in 2010.
Hopkins says this means the college is fully responsible for Kharoba’s courses because FDLE only oversees the courses that it funds.
Still, despite criticism that includes a recent article in a national magazine about Kharoba’s teaching methods, Wood and Izquierdo both said that Broward College has never received any negative reviews of Kharoba’s courses.
Derek Newton, communications director for the ALCU of Florida, said he was unaware of any complaints or civil lawsuits regarding Kharoba.
A sensitive subject
Kharoba defends his methodology and blames the media for misrepresenting counterterrorism efforts.
In March, Washington Monthly magazine questioned the validity of his curriculum in an article about civil liberties and counterterrorism instruction. Kharoba issued a statement that accused the magazine of “slander.”
“This report is a testament to the sad state of affairs of leftist media who will use any means to attack their opponents on the right,” his rebuttal says.
A Broward Bulldog reporter asked to attend one of Kharoba’s classes. Kharoba agreed, but on the condition that the reporter sign a confidentiality agreement because his coursework is “law enforcement sensitive.” Broward Bulldog would not agree to that condition and did not attend.
“You don’t want the bad guys to know what you know about them,” Kharoba said of his sensitive materials.
Kharoba would not let a reporter review his book, which he uses in some of the courses he teaches. He declined to provide a photo of himself for this article because he believes his profession puts his life at risk.
Top law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Al Lamberti, declined to be interviewed about Broward College’s counterterrorism training program, or discuss accusations that police officers are being trained to discriminate.
“Counterterrorism instruction would fall under the category of sensitive security information and it’s not something (Lamberti) would discuss,” said BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley said he was unaware of Kharoba and had heard no complaints about the Institute.
Hollywood Chief Chadwick Wagner did not respond to an interview request. The Broward County Police Benevolent Association also did not comment.
Sunrise Police Chief John Brooks, head of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association, also did not respond to requests for comment. The association helps to review and direct projects funded by the Institute of Public Safety’s 2010 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, according to the grant abstract. The grant currently funds Kharoba’s courses.
Likewise, the International Counter Terrorism Officers Association — a nonprofit that Kharoba says has thousands of members, including him — did not respond to interview requests.
Kharoba is an instructor at the Institute even though he has no training in counterterrorism and little formal education about Islam.
The Jordanian-American says he earned a certificate in Arabic studies from the University of London while enrolled in Jordan’s British education system. Middle East expert Dustin Berna of Nova Southeastern University doubts the significance of the certificate. “I have never heard of such a thing,” he said by email.
Still, Kharoba insists that his independent study of Islam and his upbringing in Jordan qualify him to educate law enforcement officers about counterterrorism.
“I don’t have a degree in it, but I’m extremely literate in Islamic theology,” he said. “When you live in a culture, you acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge about it as opposed to studying it.”
Kharoba, 45, was born to Christian parents in Amman, Jordan, where his father worked for the British government. Kharoba says he grew up exposed to both Western and Arabic religion and culture.
He immigrated to the United States after high school and said he earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in computer and electrical engineering with a minor in math in 1987. A university official confirmed only the degree in electrical engineering.
Until 2001, Kharoba worked in software development.
After 9/11, he noticed that the media did not use the real names of many of the terrorists who made headlines. Instead, nicknames or aliases were often used because the differences between Arabic and Western naming conventions led to mistranslations.
Seizing the opportunity, Kharoba started to teach the law enforcement community about the nuances of Arabic names, whose flexibility allows ill-willed foreign nationals to adopt multiple U.S. identities.
“That’s how I got into law enforcement and counterterrorism training,” Kharoba said. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about law enforcement, how they work, or anything like that.”
From there, Kharoba branched into other subjects. “As I started working within the law enforcement community, I found that not only is it the names that they’re challenged with,” he said. “They didn’t know anything about the culture or the religion.”
To help raise his profile as a counterterrorism instructor, Kharoba founded Counter Terrorism Operations Center, LLC, in 2006. He receives payment from Broward College under the company’s name.
Kharoba, a former Coral Springs resident who moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2008, would not say how much money he makes in the counterterrorism business. But he says his desire to prevent another 9/11, not money, is what motivates him.
“When I became a naturalized citizen, I took an oath of allegiance, and I was fulfilling my oath. I saw that there’s a chronic problem, I saw that there’s a way that I could contribute to make things better for my country, and that’s what prompted me to do it,” he said of his transition from software to counterterrorism.