- On December 1, an ACLU of Northern California press release
headlined, "FOIA Documents Show FBI Illegally Collecting Intelligence
Under Guise of Community Outreach," saying:
- "The trust that community outreach efforts aim to
create is undermined when the FBI exploits these programs to gather intelligence
on the very members of the religious and community organizations agents
are meeting with."
- "The FBI should be honest with community organizations
about what information is being collected during meetings and purge any
improperly collected information."
- Instead, FBI agents illegally collected names, ID information,
opinions of community event attendees, as well as sponsoring groups, including
their goals, activities, names and positions of leaders, and their racial,
ethnic, and national origin.
- The FBI Directorate of Intelligence Domain Management
program maintains the information to "assess threats, vulnerabilities,
gaps and new opportunities for intelligence collection."
- In fact, community outreach programs are a way to establish
communications, mutual understanding and trust between government agencies
and public groups. Using them for covert intelligence gathering shows authorities
operate lawlessly for their own purposes.
- In fact, FBI documents reveal Privacy Act violations
in gathering information about individuals' First Amendment activities.
- ACLU Documents Obtained
- A 2009 San Jose FBI memorandum described its participation
in an Assyrian organization's lawful career day. Nonetheless, recorded
information obtained included leader identities, content of their conversations,
backgrounds, travel histories, education, occupation, and charitable work.
- Information was then sent to the FBI's San Francisco
- A 2009 Sacramento FBI memorandum explained California
State University, Chico conversations with a student about the Saudi Student
Association, including its size, purpose and activities. Detailed information
on the student was collected.
- A 2009 San Francisco memorandum documented information
on a Pakistani community organization. It included material on its First
Amendment-protected activities, as well as identities of its officers,
directors and advisors.
- San Francisco 2007 and 2008 memoranda dealt with Ramadan
Iftar dinner attendees "under the guise of the FBI's mosque outreach
program." Detailed information about them was collected.
- A 2007 San Jose memorandum documented a mosque outreach
meeting attended by 50 individuals from 27 Muslim community and religious
organizations. Demographic information about them was collected.
- FBI community outreach programs are supposed to operate
out of the Agency's Office of Public Affairs. Its programs include:
- the FBI Citizens' Academy to give community leaders information
on FBI activities to promote better mutual understanding; and
- ad hoc efforts like post-9/11 mosque outreach programs,
in conjunction with the FBI's Civil Rights Unit, to provide ways to report
- Since 2005 or earlier, FOIA obtained documents reveal
Agency covert use of community outreach programs to collect First Amendment-protected
activities for intelligence purposes, not legal ways to promote mutual
understanding and cooperation.
- In 2005, the FBI linked its Citizens' Academy outreach
activities to its InfraGard Program - an association of private sector
and law enforcement agencies "dedicated to sharing information and
intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States."
- Then and later, Agency efforts collected intelligence
covertly as part of Washington's "war on terror." In 2008, the
FBI Directorate of Intelligence formally linked community outreach activities
to intelligence gathering under the Agency's Domain Management program.
- It was done to "enhance the....network of contacts
with community leaders....who can assist the FBI and fellow federal, state
and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies in combating terrorism."
- Information obtained violated Privacy Act provisions
that prohibit federal agencies from collecting and maintaining records:
- "describing how any individual exercises rights
guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute
or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent
to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity."
- The Privacy Act also prohibits federal agencies from
collecting information "for a particular purpose from being used or
made available for another purpose" without explicit consent of targeted
individuals and/or groups.
- However, community members weren't informed that Agency
outreach was for intelligence, and potentially could be used to subject
them to investigations on suspicions of terrorism involvement.
- The Muslim Community Association (MCA) was affected.
Its Board Secretary Isa Shaw said:
- "Like all Americans, we want to help the FBI. Now
we feel betrayed. We support the idea of building trust through FBI outreach
programs, but the government should not be taking advantage of it to violate
out First Amendment rights like this."
- With great concern, other targeted groups feel the same
way, especially when legal activities can be manipulated and interpreted
to be terrorist related.
- Other Federal, State and Local Spying Activities
- The ACLU released numerous reports of illegal spying.
They include federal, state and local SARs (suspicious activity reporting)
programs that encourage police, intelligence and homeland security officials,
emergency responders, and members of the public to spy on neighbors, and
report "suspicious" activities to authorities.
- In an environment of fear, legal activities may be misinterpreted.
Innocent people end up on terrorist watch lists. Their names and vital
information get in law enforcement/intelligence data bases. As a result,
their personal safety and reputations are henceforth jeopardized.
- Fusion centers and other intelligence sharing systems
enable easy access for the Joint Terrorism Task Forces and Director of
National Intelligence (DNI) Information Sharing Environment (ISE), as well
as local law enforcement officials.
- In Terry v. Ohio (1968), the Supreme Court established
"reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity as the standard for
police stops to investigate further.
- Under Title 28, Part 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations,
law enforcement agencies getting federal funds "shall collect and
maintain criminal intelligence information (on an individual) only if there
is reasonable suspicion (of involvement) in criminal conduct or activity,"
and what's collected is relevant.
- However, suspicious activities reporting (SARs) threaten
civil liberties by encouraging harmful indiscriminate spying.
- A June 2010 ACLU report titled, "Policing Free Speech:
Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity"
highlighted today's danger. It also cited law enforcement's long history
of illegally spying on US citizens and obstructing lawful political activity.
- As a result, federal, state and local authorities "across
America continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for....peacefully
exercising their First Amendment rights." Community outreach investigations
represent one of many illegal activities threatening law abiding Americans.
Muslims are especially affected.
- They and others have been monitored and harassed for
engaging in marches, protests, organizing, having "unusual viewpoints,
and engag(ing) in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or
taking photographs in public."
- A February 2011 Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
report titled, "Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations
from 2001 - 2008" reviewed nearly 2,500 FOIA-obtained document pages.
- They revealed "alarming (lawless) trends,"
and suggest far more frequent civil liberty violations than previously
- (1) grossly understated numbers;
- (2) long delays between violations and reporting them;
- (3) types of violations involved, including:
- (a) investigative oversight;
- (b) "abuse, misuse, or careless use of....National
Security Letter (NSL) authority;" FBI, CIA and other government agencies
use them (administrative subpoenas), demanding recipients turn over requested
information and remain silent; no probable cause or judicial oversight
- (c) sidestepping constitutional, Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act and other legal principles; and
- (d) complicity of ISPs, phone companies, financial institutions
and credit agencies, supplying unauthorized personal information without
their customers' knowledge or consent.
- (4) flagrant abuses, including false declarations to
courts, supplying bogus evidence to get indictments, and accessing protected
documents without warrants.
- Violations of federal law governing criminal investigations
and intelligence gathering activities are especially flagrant, brazen and
egregious. They include willfully making false written statements to courts,
and supplying bogus information to get indictments of innocent people.
- Because of FBI secrecy and coverup, it's impossible to
know the full extent of its lawlessness, how many people were harmed, and
for what reasons.
- Yet from what's known, "the frequency and type of
violations revealed....are staggering." Minimally, greater accountability
and oversight are needed.
- Post-9/11, Muslims especially are targeted for their
faith, ethnicity, and at times prominence and charity. As a result, they're
ruthlessly vilified and exploited as "war on terror" scapegoats
for political advantage.
- Innocent victims are entrapped, arrested, tried on secret
evidence, convicted on bogus charges, and incarcerated as political prisoners.
- As a result, Muslim organizations need protection from
government outreach and other efforts targeting them lawlessly.
- Today, they're more than ever vulnerable. Everyone should
embrace their struggle against FBI and police functioning as enforcers
for crime bosses, not everyone they're sworn to protect.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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