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Oct. 18 2009 - 4:55 pm | 316 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Update: FBI’s mosque undercover program

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My last post was about Muslim interns infiltrating Washington. But there is the other side to this story: the government placing spies in mosques.

This weekend, RNS has a piece about the FBI’s use of undercover informants at mosques. The story isn’t exactly new: it broke earlier in the year, when the FBI arrested Ahmadullah Niazi, an Afghanistan native, whose brother-in-law is Osama bin Laden’s alleged security coordinator.

The FBI was targeting mosques in Orange Country, and according to a L.A. Times article, even luring members to gyms, where an informant would work out with them, collect information and then feed it to the FBI.

The AP quotes the FBI on the matter:

“What matters to the FBI is preventing a massive attack that might be planned by some people … using the mosque … as a shield because they believe they’re safe there,” said Robert Blitzer, the FBI’s former counterterrorism chief.

The RNS story focuses in on the interfaith connection, citing that the FBI surveillance guidelines, covered in a 270-page manual known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, should be a concern to all religious groups — not just Muslims.

“It allows for the monitoring and the collection of data on individuals, based on their race, ethnicity, as well on what jobs they might hold,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.

“People of all faith communities should be concerned because it gives the power to the FBI to be able to infiltrate any religious community,” Khera said.

I’ve seen plenty of examples of officials treating  immigrants poorly in Los Angeles, especially when the facts of the case aren’t clear cut. The language barrier and the inevitable condescension that follows is enough to make one cringe.

But does the mosque profiling constitute solid FBI work or discrimination?


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  1. collapse expand

    Most of my research about wrongful convictions (see my T/S blog “In Justice”) covers crimes committed in state jurisdictions. Because so little of my research examines federal cases (I must draw the line somewhere to accomplish meaningful investigations), I cannot draw airtight conclusions about the FBI’s complicity in wrongful convictions. I feel comfortable, however, commenting about the overall effectiveness of the FBI in cases such as the one chosen by Lilly Fowler.

    I’ll leave the questions of ethnic/religious discrimination and invasion of privacy by the FBI to other commenters. My overriding question is about the effectiveness of the FBI operation when it comes to preventing and solving crimes. Over the decades, since its inception actually, the FBI has been a remarkably inept crime-fighting agency. Has it sometimes carried out law enforcement effectively? Yes. Are many of its personnel brainy and hard working? Yes. But I have seen countless reports filed by FBI agents filled with factual errors, ineffective surveillance and mistaken conclusions. Government propagandists, patriotic filmmakers and gullible journalists have combined over the decades to create an always-capture-their-prey image for the FBI. I would say that the image frequently fails to reflect the reality.

  2. collapse expand


    Actually, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide specifically *prohibits* collecting information on, or even initiating an assessment into an individual or group based solely on their race, ethnicity, gender, or religious views; that is, there must *always* be information or allegation of some illegal conduct underlying the investigation.

    Since every FBI agent and analyst had to sit through 16 hours of training on the guidelines, wherin that particular point was reiterated about once per hour, I think people should feel quite comfortable with the work of the FBI in this area.

    Since the FBI doesn’t usually publically discuss ongoing investigations, it’s always easy for someone under investigation to simply claim they’re being profiled because of an un-related reason.


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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Los Angeles. I work at the national radio business show Marketplace while freelancing for a number of places. My work has appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, Slate, among other papers across the country. I write about religion a lot.

    Fish tacos, comic books and a combination of punk and psychedelic music just about round out my existence. If you've got a story idea for me, e-mail me at lillyfowler@yahoo.com

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