Trump team seeks names of officials working to counter violent extremism


WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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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 Dec. 9 email seen by Reuters, 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 U.S. 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 Jan. 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."

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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Energy secretary: Rick Perry

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

 REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief strategist: Steve Bannon

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)

White House counsel: Donald McGahn

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
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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 U.S. 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. (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and)


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