The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), using information gathered from internal Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) documents, is alleging that the FBI is illegally gathering information on Muslims’ political and religious affiliations during outreach meetings.
Particularly since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI has been conducting outreach with American Muslims and Arab Americans, working with them to increase cooperation between communities and federal authorities. Yet the documents obtained by the ACLU show that the FBI has been using this outreach to spy on Muslim communities that are working with the federal government.
As one example, FBI agents are “recording Social Security numbers and other identifying information of people they meet,” and one agent in California even recorded the political views of the attendees of a Ramadan dinner, noting that one was “very progressive” and another was “very Western in appearance and outlook”:
Some of the papers show agents speaking at career days, briefing community members on FBI programs and helping them work with police to fight drug abuse. But the files also depict agents as recording Social Security numbers and other identifying information of people after they meet, and, in at least one instance, noting their political views. It appears that the agents are conducting follow-up investigations in some instances, but heavy redactions in the documents make it impossible to determine how far any examination might have gone.
In one case, an agent wrote that he checked California motor vehicle records on someone the agent encountered at a Ramadan dinner at a San Francisco Islamic association. One attendee is described as “very progressive.” Another is called “very Western in appearance and outlook.”
The ACLU alleges that this spying is actually illegal. It’s disconcerting that the FBI is engaging in illegal spying, and it is also troubling that the FBI is betraying the trust of the very American Muslims who have chosen to cooperate with the federal government in its goal of identifying and preventing domestic radicalization.
“The allegations themselves are extremely damaging to the partnership,” said the Muslim Public Affair Committee’s Alejandro J. Beutel to Talking Points Memo. “Whether or not we’re talking about whether this is deliberate or accidental, we really need to hear some immediate clarification from officials at the FBI because it really seems like the partnership — which has been very important to keeping our nation safe and secure — has come under enormous strain, especially in the past few months.”
For more on the FBI’s disturbing trend of hostile tactics against the Muslim American community, see Wired Magazine’s investigation into how FBI agents are being taught that Muslims are inherently violent or radical and other Islamophobic myths.