Lawuit Seeks Information on FBI Activities in Northern CA Muslim Communities

August 24, 2010 12:00 am

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Demand to comply with FOIA request stems from reports of community anxiety and fear over surveillance tactics


SAN FRANCISCO & SACRAMENTO – The American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian today filed a lawsuit today against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to speed the release of FBI records on the investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area.

The civil rights organizations and The Bay Guardian have requested the records in order to understand and to report on whether and how the FBI is:

  • investigating Islamic centers and mosques (as well as Christian churches and Jewish synagogues);
  • “assessing” religious leaders;
  • infiltrating communities through the use of undercover agents and informants;
  • training agents in Islam and Muslim culture;
  • using race, religion and national origin in deciding whom to investigate; and
  • identifying particular schools for its Junior Agent Program.

“Clear information about the FBI’s activities is necessary in order to understand the scope of their surveillance tactics to assess whether they have had a chilling effect on the right to worship freely or to exercise other forms of expression,” said Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California.

“This lawsuit is about transparency. The public is entitled to this information under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI admitted in March that our clients’ FOIA requests are entitled to expedited processing because of the widespread media attention on these issues, but the government has yet to provide them a single document,” said attorney Raj Chatterjee of the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

The records are sought in part in response to concerns reported extensively in the New York Times, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, NBC Bay Area, New America Media, and other publications about the chilling effects of possible racial and religious profiling and the potential harm such tactics may have on national security.

Also of interest to the civil rights organizations are details on whether FBI agents are recruiting Muslim and Arab children at Bay Area schools to serve in the agency’s Junior Agent Program.

Over the past several months, community members from Oakland, San Mateo, San Francisco, and other locals have contacted the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus to share their personal experiences about visits by FBI agents and to voice broader community anxiety over attempts by the FBI to recruit informants and infiltrators.

“We get calls from community members, leaders, and organizations every week regarding unwanted FBI attention,” explained Veena Dubal, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “We need to understand the FBI’s own policies and practices so that the communities we serve can make informed comments and seek policy changes as appropriate.”

Attorneys available to discuss the lawsuit include Veena Dubal of the Asian Law Caucus; Raj Chatterjee of the law firm Morrison & Foerster, who is leading a team of pro bono attorneys working on this case; and Julia Harumi Mass of the ACLU of Northern California.

Embedded links to news stories cited in the legal complaint:

1. Michael B. Farrell, “Fort Hood Shootings: US Muslims Feel New Heat,” Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 17, 2009.
2. Paul Vitello and Kirk Semple, “Muslims Say FBI Tactics Sow Anger and Fear,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 2009.
3. Alejandro J. Beutel, “Muslim Americans and US Law Enforcement: Not Enemies, But Vital Partners,” Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 30, 2009.…
4. Niraj Warikoo, “Deadly FBI Raid of Detroit Mosque Prompts Concern Over Informants: Muslims, Civil Rights Advocates Decry Tactic,” Detroit Free Press, Jan 17, 2010.
5. Nick Meyer, “US Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses Detroit Community, Arabs, Muslims,” New America Media, Nov. 24, 2009.…
6. Charlie Savage, “Loosening of FBI Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2009.
7. Teresa Watanabe and Paloma Esquivel, “L.A. Area Muslims Say FBI Surveillance Has A Chilling Effect On Their Free Speech And Religious Practices,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1, 2009.
8. Jacqueline L. Salmon, “Muslim Americans At Odds Over FBI Contact,” Washington Post, Mar. 28, 2009.…
9. Michelle Toy, “FBI’s Newest Recruits: Arabic-Speaking Kids,” NBC Bay Area, Jan. 8, 2010.…

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