The White House declined to invite FBI Director James Comey to a three-day summit held this week to develop strategies to combat violent extremism, according to senior administration officials.
Comey’s absence was in stark contract to the presence of his Russian counterpart, Aleksandr V. Bortnikov, the director of the Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet KGB.
The administration left Comey out in the cold because the summit was not intended to focus not on law enforcement strategies to combat extremism, administration officials told The New York Times.
Instead, the summit, which drew religious, political and civic leaders from more than 60 nations, focused on community-based approaches to address the growing problem in the U.S. and throughout the world.
But the presence of Bortnikov seems to go against that grain. The Russian Federal Security Service has been criticized for various human rights violations and for spying on the Russian people.
Bortnikov’s agency also refused to provide information before 2013’s Boston Marathon bombing that could have possibly prevented the terrorist act, The Times noted.
Bortnikov — who has been head of the Federal Security Service since 2008 — is currently on a European Union sanction list because of Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. However, he is not currently blocked from entering the U.S.
A senior administration official clarified that Bortnikov was not directly invited by the White House. Instead, a blanket invitation was issued to Russia, which tapped Bortnikov to attend.
The senior official also defended the decision to not invite Comey, telling The Times that “while the FBI works tirelessly to keep the country safe, this conference was not centered on federal law enforcement.”
The official touted the “bottom-up approach,” saying that the administration’s plans to combat violent extremism “are premised on the notion that local officials and communities can be an effective bulwark against violent extremism.”
The summit held true to form.
During opening remarks on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden stressed the importance of the “inclusion” of immigrants in helping to prevent radicalization.
“Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities — a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging and that discredits the terrorist appeal to fear, isolation, hatred, resentment,” Biden said, adding that a solution goes “beyond a military answer” and “beyond force.”
During the summit’s closing remarks on Thursday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that mothers are key to spotting the warning signs of extremism.
“Who is better than a mother to spot unusual behavior in her child and intervene?” she asked.