The FBI Fails Cultural Sensitivity Training

by Translation Guy on April 18, 2012

Muslims are violent and crazy, Asians don’t like to shake hands, and similar nuggets of cultural wisdom can be found in FBI PowerPoints, according to FBI training materials released in a six-month review of how G-men were trained, writes Spencer Ackerman of Danger Room.

“It’s stunning that these things could be said to members of our FBI in training,” says Sen. Richard Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the FBI. Here’s his letter.

FBI spokesman Christopher Allen says, “Of the approximately 160,000 pages of training material reviewed, less than one percent contained factually inaccurate or imprecise information or used stereotypes,” Allen told Danger Room. “But mistakes were made, and we are correcting those mistakes. Through this review process, we recognized that we lacked a centralized process to ensure all training materials were reviewed and validated. We are addressing that gap so this does not happen again.”

Bad PR, and really bad QA. Officials have mandated that FBI training material “must be reviewed carefully by supervisory-level personnel possessing an appropriate level of understanding of relevant topics.”

So that means before they weren’t doing that. Which probably means that the content was being written ad hoc. Big QA fail.

This had all come about because of Ackerman’s earlier report concerning FBI training documents and the guidance they gave on working with different ethnic groups.

“A sample of that possibly harmful training comes from a document on “Establishing Relationships,” which instructed: “Never attempt to shake hands with an Asian. Never stare at an Asian. Never try to speak to an Arab female prior to approaching the Arab male first.”

Another document, titled “Control and Temper,” contrasted the “Western Mind” with that of the “Arab World.” The “Western” mind possessed an “even keel” and “outbursts” of emotion were “exceptional.” In the “Arab World,” by contrast, “Outburst and Loss of Control [is] Expected.” A bullet point below asked, “What’s wrong with frequent Jekyll & Hyde temper tantrums?”

I’m no Arab expert, but the Asian stuff is pretty far off the mark, political correctness aside, (as if that were possible). Apart from any ethnic aspersions, this kind of content reeks of “amateur’ as badly as last week’s research at the body farm. I don’t mean that the agent or expert who wrote that doesn’t know his job, but that the training task wasn’t taken seriously enough to do it correctly with professional training support, to help the author turn his knowledge into content that was an asset rather than a liability to the organization. Security makes for silos, so maybe that’s the reason why the FBI has resisted taking it through a more professional, centralized process.  That and the money. Which comes at the price of this kind of press.

To what degree do these content errors affect the way the FBI behaves in the field?


  1. Ivanka says:

    Does it surprise anyone that something coming from the government, especially racially charged, has a few (to say the least) inconsistencies with reality? With an agency as large as it is, I would think any training docs be researched and triple checked by many people before ever putting them in place.

  2. Theo Zelnik says:

    They can write all the correct PR stuff they want, but what is really told to the FBI recruits during training is another story.

  3. 160,000 pages of training material? How long is this training, 50 years? Sounds like they could condense it a little.

  4. “must be reviewed carefully by supervisory-level personnel possessing an appropriate level of understanding of relevant topics.” Seems logical to me. I can’t imagine that it would have ever been done any other way. But, then again, it is the government.

  5. Pissy Missy says:

    I lived in China for years and I never had a problem shaking anyone’s hand. However, many never ate with their left hand because that was the hand for cleaning up after the bathroom. (or so I was told).

  6. The content doesn’t seem just amateur, but also as if the wirters were just putting down a lot of the discriminatory feelings towards certain ethnic groups in the training instead of researching the situation first hand.

    • Ken says:

      Make that “rank amateur” then?

  7. Liam Eiseman says:

    The western mind is not an even keel. Just watch how many people communicate nowadays and you can see that politeness has gone out the window in many places. I don’t think there is a problem with the occaisional outburst, it just helps get your point across.

  8. Kim Ades says:

    Some may percieve Arabs as out of control, but they are just as calm and calculating as any other race on the planet. Anyone has the ability to have the Jeckyl and hyde personna.

  9. I would think that a large portion of the training would be about things directly related to the job at hand, but I think common sense is a HUGE factor in any attempt to establish a relationship.

    • Ken says:

      Much more so than PowerPoint make-work.

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