FBI Using “Community Outreach” events to Spy on Americans

I sometimes talk to Muslim audiences. There is often an FBI agent in the audience and sometimes an ACLU representative. Maz Jobrani suggested at one such event that everyone else leave and let the two of them talk. Now it turns out that the agents often are there gathering information on participants and storing it, even though it is legal for American Muslims to have a public dinner together. The ACLU is blowing the whistle on these FBI practices. Obviously, Muslim groups may be increasingly reluctant to invite agents (done anyway on the unreasonable grounds that law enforcement needs to be reassured about a perfectly peaceful and loyal American community).

Reprinted from ACLU site:

December 1, 2011

FBI Storing Information on Activities Protected by the First Amendment, Memos Obtained by ACLU Show

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The FBI has been illegally using its community outreach programs to secretly collect and store information about activities protected by the First Amendment for intelligence purposes, according to FBI documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“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,” said Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and a former FBI agent. “The FBI should be honest with community organizations about what information is being collected during meetings and purge any improperly collected information.”

FOIA documents showing instances of inappropriate intelligence gathering include:

• San Francisco FBI memos, written in 2007 and 2008 by agents who attended Ramadan Iftar dinners under the guise of the FBI’s mosque outreach program, documenting participants’ names, conversations and presentations. The 2008 memo also recorded participants’ contact information and descriptions of their opinions and associations.
• A 2009 San Jose, Calif. FBI memo describing FBI participation in a career day sponsored by an Assyrian community organization. Agents detailed conversations with three community leaders and members about their opinions, backgrounds and charitable activities.
• A 2007 San Jose, Calif. FBI memo describing a mosque outreach meeting attended by 50 people representing 27 Muslim community and religious organizations, identifying each person by name and organization and analyzing their “demographics.”

“Except under certain special circumstances, the Privacy Act bars the FBI from maintaining records like these describing how Americans exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association,” said Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “Congress passed this law to prevent records obtained by the government for one purpose from being used for another reason without a person’s consent, but that is precisely what the FBI has done.”

There is no indication in the FOIA documents that community members were informed that the FBI’s outreach activities were used for intelligence gathering purposes or could be potentially used to target these people and their organizations for investigations.

One of the organizations whose members were noted attending the mosque outreach meeting was the Muslim Community Association (MCA). “Like all Americans, we want to help the FBI. Now we feel betrayed,” said MCA Board Secretary Isa Shaw. “We support the idea of building trust through FBI community outreach programs, but the government should not be taking advantage of it to violate our First Amendment rights like this.”

The ACLU is calling on the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate Privacy Act violations in the FBI’s San Francisco and Sacramento Divisions and to initiate a broader audit of FBI practices nationwide. It is also urging the FBI to stop using community outreach for intelligence purposes, to be honest with community organizations regarding what information is collected and retained during community outreach meetings and to purge all improperly collected information.

The request for these documents was made by the ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

A detailed description of examples (with links to FOIA documents) showing the FBI’s improper collection of information at community outreach meetings is available at: [this site]…

3 Responses

  1. My guess is since this information was obtained through FOIA it is but the tip of the iceberg. I have followed how the FBI has attempted to isolate an effective organization like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)while conducting aggressive “outreach” programs with organizations like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) and willing mosques. The law abiding Muslim community stands to loose by exposing its constitutionally protected rights to assembly, speech and religion to government abuse.

  2. In Germany this new Pirate Party is comming out of nowwhere to cross the 5% hurdle to get parlimentary representation.
    They recently had a party Congress. Two issues are very important to them, Data Protection and Government Transparency.
    I think that these to issues are somewhat contrridictary.
    There is no clear line in which one can say privacy is good for this institution and bad for this institution. Institutions are on a continuem. There is the government which is supposed to represent everyone. Obviuosly secrecy in governmental instutions is harmful to democratic developement. But then there are political parties who all want to promote an agenda against other political parties.
    By making their future tactics known to everyone they give a huge advantage to their opponents. Then there are intrest groups and politcal caususes that try to promote one or perhaps two issues who have the same problem. Followed by corporations that certianly play a public function. Why should what goes on in a corprate boardroom be private.
    The probelm with the a police organization monitoring events is that they work for the intrests of the 1% and not the rest of us. It is a perfectly legitimate act to gather info for the 99%. The only difference between a newspaper or TV reporter and a spy is who they report the information that the learn to.
    I say down with privacy. Political public gatherings should be monitored. Corporate board meetings should be
    monitored. Internet discussions should be monitored.

    As a former Libertarian who was involved with the party from 1978 to 1994 I used to say all the time that those peopel who are willing to trade thier liberty for security will have niether. It may not seem that giving up our liberty is exactly what I am proprosing.
    ACtually that is exactly not what I am proposing. If people want to be free they have to defend that freedom.
    An easy step to defending that freedom is that you should be willing to say what you thing even though you know that you are being monitored by a government official and even though you are saying something that those who lead the government will not like.
    It is just as easy to lose your security and freedom and life at the hands of non governmental actors as it is governmental actors. The little ditto that I used to repeat
    for so many years is nonsense. Privacy is a threat to the health and well being of everyone.
    There are perhaps exceptions though. In a time of war a nation certainly does not need to make its planned strategies and tactics public. In that case there is an imminate clear and present danger to the public safety.

  3. Charitable, cultural and educational efforts are not enough and never were for any of the myriad immigrants who came to America. Just ask the Germans, Irish, Polish, and Jews to name a few.

    Arab/Muslim Americans must aspire to greater participation in the political, civil and public affairs of the American system of governance, not cower or complain waiting for someone else to fight their fight.

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