ACLU Calls FBI Mosque-Counting Scheme Blatant Ethnic and Religious Profiling

January 27, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called a controversial scheme being implemented by the FBI to base investigation and wiretap goals on demographic information, including the number of mosques in a given area, a case of ethnic and religious profiling that will fail to make Americans any safer.

“This is blatant religious and ethnic profiling,” said Dalia Hashad, the ACLU’s Arab, Muslim and South Asian Advocate. “After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, the FBI did not install more resources in areas with large populations of military veterans.”

The FBI policy in question was reported in the February 3, 2003 issue of Newsweek. The policy directs the chiefs of the bureau’s 56 regional field offices to compile demographic data, which will then be used to set specific numeric goals for terrorism investigations and secret, national security wiretaps. The regional offices learned of the scheme last month when they received a six-page questionnaire, which — under a section named “Vulnerabilities” — asked them to indicate the number of mosques in their communities. FBI officials have acknowledged that the mosque tallies would be used to set these quotas.

The ACLU said that the program is tailor-made for a witch-hunt: instead of justifying why it’s investigating a particular mosque, the FBI now has to justify why it is not. The initial vision of the program is remarkably similar to the mechanics of the Japanese-American internment during World War II, which was based and organized around census data.

Also of concern to the ACLU is the potential waste of resources under this quota regime. “This misuse of resources is as ineffective as it is un-American, undermining both national security and civil liberties,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This Washington-driven plan requires trained and experienced field agents to use their limited resources to target Muslim communities and institutions — even if the evidence doesn’t back it up.”

The mosque-counting plan would be similar in implication, the ACLU said, to the relaxation of the FBI political spying guidelines last year. The FBI guidelines — installed in the mid-1970s after revelations about character assassination campaigns against political figures such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — were rewritten by Attorney General John Ashcroft to allow the FBI to spy on constitutionally protected religious or political activity without suspicion of criminal activity or intent.

“The FBI guidelines encourage agents to infiltrate mosques and other houses of worship,” Hashad said. “The mosque-counting scheme virtually guarantees this invasion.”

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