December 2, 2011: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is alleging that the FBI is illegally gathering information on Muslims' political and religious affiliations during outreach meetings. The ACLU is basing these allegations on information gathered from internal Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) own documents.
Since the 9-11 terrorist attack, the FBI has been conducting, what is called "outreach" with American Muslims and Arab Americans. The FBI claims they were working with them to increase cooperation between communities and federal authorities. Yet the ACLU alleges the documents, they obtained, show that the FBI has been using this "outreach" to spy on Muslim communities.
Supposedly some of the documents show FBI agents speaking at career days, briefing community members on FBI programs and helping them work with police to fight drug abuse. But these documents, per the ACLU, also indicate agents were 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, in some instances, the agents were even conducting follow-up investigations, but heavy processing in the documents make it difficult if not 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 is spying and it is 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."
The FBI denied any wrongdoing, saying information gathered by outreach teams was not used for operational matters.
"Established policy requires that an appropriate separation be maintained between outreach and operational activities and includes several provisions to ensure this is the case," the FBI said in a statement. They added the "primary purpose" of outreach programs was "to enhance public trust in the FBI in order to enlist the cooperation of the public to fight criminal activity."
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Sources: ThinkProgress, AFP