US Intel Agency Wants To Ban Terms 'Radical Islamists' and 'Jihadist' Because They're Hurtful to Muslim Americans

Office of the Director of National Intelligence also instructs employees to avoid 'blacklisted,' 'cakewalk,' and 'sanity check'

(Office of the Director of National Intelligence)
March 27, 2024

The United States' top intelligence agency wants to ban its spies from using "biased language," including the terms "radical Islamists" and "jihadist," saying these words "are hurtful to Muslim-Americans and detrimentally impact our efforts as they bolster extremist rhetoric," according to a language guide published internally.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is responsible for handling the country's spy apparatus, seeks to ban a range of common terms because it says they offend Muslims and foment racism against employees. In addition to terms describing Islamic terrorists, ODNI instructs employees to avoid phrases such as "blacklisted," "cakewalk," "brown bag," "grandfathered," and "sanity check."

"Blacklisted," for instance, "implies black is bad and white is good," while "cakewalk" is said to refer "to a dance performed by slaves for slave owners on plantation grounds." "Brown bag," a term most often used to describe a paper bag that holds one's lunch, actually "refers to the 'brown bag' test practices in the 20th century within the African American community," according to ODNI, which outlined these terms in an internal magazine produced by the agency's Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility.

The document, which was first reported by the Daily Wire, is the latest example of how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives inside the American government are reshaping how employees speak to one another and perform their national security jobs. Critics describe these programs as part of a "woke" cultural shift promoted by far-left activists and their allies in the Biden administration. Republicans in Congress are looking to strip millions in federal funding for DEI programs across the military and other agencies, arguing they fundamentally harm the country’s national security operations across the globe.

ODNI did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the intelligence community, said woke initiatives like the ones laid out in the magazine are "a gift to our adversaries."

"U.S. intelligence officials are being trained to use terms that don’t 'disparage' China or Islamic terrorists," Banks said. "Wokeness is a gift to our adversaries."

The quarterly magazine, called The Dive, also includes an anonymous article by a male intelligence officer who discusses the benefits of being a crossdresser. "I am an intelligence officer, and I am a man who likes to wear women's clothes sometimes," the anonymous employee wrote. "I think my experiences as someone who crossdresses have sharpened the skills I use as an intelligence officer, particularly critical thinking and perspective-taking."

The ODNI magazine was published earlier this year and focuses on "the importance of words."

"What we say can make or break rapport, elevate or tarnish a reputation, and even support or refute a narrative," wrote the magazine's editor in chief, a DEI employee whose name is redacted. "As employees of the [intelligence community], our work and our words are forever etched in history and speak volumes to the important work we carry out in service of the greater good. It is paramount that we are cognizant about the terminology we use in every aspect of our duties."

The magazine is a product of discussion among "all nine diversity advisory committees" housed in the U.S. intelligence community. The officials are "working tirelessly to identify their constituents' challenges, concerning terminology, and themes to incorporate in their respective language guidance reports."

Discussions about Islamic terrorists and their ideology remain a central concern for the intelligence community, which is prioritizing "disentangling Islam from words and phrases used to discuss terrorism and extremist violence."

Officials say they "noticed how some trainings and official presentations conflated Islamic beliefs with terrorism, which is offensive and alienates our Muslim-American colleagues." Additionally, they "noticed how the [U.S. government], particularly the [intelligence community], used certain phrases to identify international terrorism threats that are hurtful to Muslim-Americans and detrimentally impact our efforts as they bolster extremist rhetoric."

These observations led to several common phrases being listed as "problematic" and banned from use. Intelligence community employees should not say "Salafi-Jihadist," "Jihadist," "Islamic-Extremist," "Sunni/Shia-Extremism," or "Radical Islamists," according to the document. "These terms incorrectly suggest that Islamic beliefs somehow condone the actions and rhetoric espoused by these foreign terrorist organizations."

Intelligence community officials spoke with a range of academic and community activists when sculpting this policy.

"The majority of people we spoke with mentioned how they 'cringe' when hearing [government] officials use these offensive terms and noted it creates an incorrect perception that the American identity conflicts with Islamic beliefs, even though Muslim-Americans have been a part of the fabric of this society as far back as the war for independence," the magazine says.

"Together," the publication states, "we can make micro-changes in our culture and in our personal and professional environments."

The document outlines other terms that are not racially charged but are nonetheless labeled problematic.

"Grandfathered," for instance, refers to a "statutory and constitutional clause enacted by seven states from 1895 to 1910 that denied suffrage to African Americans, preventing them from the right to vote prior to 1866," according to a list of hurtful words included in the documents.

"Sanity check" is also listed as a term that could offend colleagues because it "implies that individuals with mental illness are inferior, wrong, or incorrect."

In the article on crossdressing, headlined "My Gender Identity and Expression Make Me a Better Intelligence Officer," the employee writes that "I'm more aware of, and hopefully supporting, my women colleagues."

"I now have a better appreciation for how it can be uncomfortable to wear women's clothes sometimes," he writes. "I know firsthand how wearing heels can make your feet hurt and make it take longer to walk somewhere. Although I like wearing a bra, I know it isn't comfortable for everyone, and is less comfortable after a few hours. On top of the biases that women often face at work, it must be hard to be uncomfortable, too."

Crossdressing, the employee says, makes him "better at understanding clandestine assets and their motivations. I understand the motivation to keep secrets about who you are and what you are doing, which sounds similar to some of the experience of an asset."

The magazine also includes a word search game that includes terms like "accessibility," "inclusion," "equality," and "ally."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the intelligence community's avoidance of phrases like "Islamic terrorism" interferes with efforts to crackdown on Palestinian terror groups, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

"October 7 was carried out by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Apparently, that is an inconvenient fact to the language, commissars, who I presume want to edit out the word Islamic from the name of the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad," Cruz said in a recent episode on his podcast. "If the intelligence community has no idea, refuses to acknowledge what is actually happening, it means they will be utterly ineffective in fighting against it and keeping Americans and our allies safe."