Letter from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero Seeking More Information Regarding the Scope and Implementation of a Nationwide FBI Investigation Program to Question Thousands of Muslims in the United States

The Honorable Robert Mueller
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Dear Director Mueller:  

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union and its more than 400,000 members, I write to express concern regarding a recently announced Federal Bureau of Investigation program to question thousands of Muslims in the United States and to seek more information about the scope and implementation of this endeavor.  Few details of the initiative have come to light, but what has been revealed is deeply troubling.  

On May 26th, at a press conference held by you and Attorney General John Ashcroft, it was announced that the FBI would launch a new round of nationwide interviews in Muslim communities, however, no details were provided.  Due to the lack of official information from the government, we are compelled to rely on a May 28th ABC News story reporting that internal Justice Department sources have confirmed that 5,000 Muslims and Arabs will be targeted for questioning based on religion and ethnicity, not on individualized criminal suspicion.    

Certainly, the government has the right and the responsibility to protect against terror threats, however, as the ACLU has long advocated, casting blanket suspicion on an entire religious community is not a productive means for protecting national security or civil liberties.  This program appears to be a resurrection of the failed 2001 and 2002 programs in which the FBI questioned first 5,000 then 3,000 Muslims and Arabs.  To our knowledge, the questioning did not yield apprehension of a single terrorist.  The FBI ought not embark down this path again when it has only lead to failure and indeed is counterproductive.  

As before, the questioning is bound to produce fear and resentment, driving a wedge between local law enforcement agencies and the targeted communities with which some agencies have worked to establish positive and cooperative relationships.  Over the last several years, the ACLU documented numerous reports detailing serious problems in the FBI's implementation of the interview programs, including:  agents arriving unannounced at homes and workplaces; agents casting undue suspicion in questioning co-workers, neighbors and friends of interviewees; officials denying interviewees their right to attorney representation and questioning about First Amendment behavior which has no bearing on criminal activity; agents forcing their way into homes; and even a few instances of questioning at gunpoint.  

Moreover, we believe that the interview program does not represent good law enforcement.  Instead, it is a fishing expedition based on little more than discriminatory presumption.  Law enforcement ought not be engaging in racial, religious and ethnic profiling.  While some FBI investigation is necessary and appropriately confidential, this program, lacking any individualized criminal suspicion, is not one of them.  Based on this administration's history of religious and ethnic profiling, the American Muslim and Arab communities live in fear.  Conducting this program in secret will only create panic.  We believe that the public has the right to know the answers to the following questions.    

  • What is the scope of the interview program?  How many people will be questioned?  On what basis will the targets be identified?  
  • Are these the same people who were interviewed in previous programs?
  • Who will conduct the questioning?  Will other agencies participate?  If so, which agencies? What training will take place for the agents conducting the questioning? 
  • Will agents be required to notify those targeted of their right to refuse the interview and/or seek legal representation?  
  • Will the FBI break with past practice of making unexpected visits at homes and workplaces and instead request, via letter, a mutually convenient time for an interview?
  • Will people be questioned about non-criminal activity such as religious practices and political beliefs?

We look forward to your answers to these questions.


Anthony D. Romero
ACLU Executive Director

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