Mapping the FBI: Documents Show Widespread Racial and Religious Profiling by Government

Yesterday, the ACLU unveiled a new initiative — Mapping the FBI — that exposes the ways in which vastly expanded FBI investigative authority has resulted in the unconstitutional investigation of American communities and individuals based on who they are and what they believe.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests in 31 states and Washington, D.C. (enforced by lawsuits in Michigan, New Jersey and California), ACLU and its affiliates uncovered and analyzed thousands of FBI documents. These documents reveal that the FBI is gathering intelligence on and mapping communities based on the association of a certain race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion with the propensity to commit various crimes.

In response, the FBI issued a statement claiming that its activities are "intended to address specific threats, not particular communities" and to "better understand the communities that are potential victims of the threats." But, the FBI's own documents show that this simply isn't true.

Nothing in the 2009 Detroit FBI memorandum that we published yesterday suggests that the FBI opened a data collection and intelligence gathering initiative directed towards Muslims and Middle Eastern communities in Michigan to protect themfrom threats. Instead, the memorandum squarely associates these communities with the "international terrorist" threat itself. It observes that "many" terrorist organizations "originate in the Middle-East and Southeast Asia" and then claims—without a single piece of evidence to back it up —that the "large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population" in Michigan makes the state "prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by these terrorist groups."

Two FBI memoranda from San Francisco concerning Chinese and Russian crime syndicates have them same problem. They make no mention of seeking to protect Chinese and Russian communities from the problem of organized crime. Instead, they document the opening of an FBI investigation involving mapping these minority groups based only on the observations that Russian and Chinese organized crime syndicates exist in the area, and that "San Francisco domain is home to one of the largest ethnic Chinese populations outside of mainland China" and "has a sizeable Russian population."

And, although heavily redacted, nothing in the FBI intelligence memorandum purporting to identify the "Black Separatist Threat" in Georgia suggests that its use of statistics about increases among "black/African-American populations in Georgia" is to identify victims rather than potential targets for FBI investigations.

So based on their own documents, the FBI's claim that it is mapping and gathering intelligence on minority communities to "better understand the communities that are potential victims of the threats" is disingenuous at best. The FBI is engaging in classic and illegal profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion on a scale impacting entire communities. Its assertion that the racial mapping program is like a police chief putting pushpins on a map to identify high-crime areas makes no sense; the "pins" in the FBI program don't map crimes, they map innocent people based on nothing but their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin and stereotypes broadly linking these groups to threats. Big difference.

Together, we can fight back. In the upcoming weeks, the ACLU will continue publishing thousands of documents from FBI field offices around the country and issuing ACLU "Eye on the FBI" alerts highlighting how the bureau's own documents show patterns of misconduct and abuse. You can join us by seeing how we're tracking FBI activity in your state, and by telling Attorney General Eric Holder that you don't want the FBI to map you or your community.

Read more about the ACLU's "Mapping the FBI" initiative at New York Times, Associated Press, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and TPM Muckraker.

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