OMB Watch : Court Orders Review of FBI Records on California Muslim Organizations as New Complaints Emerge in 2 States

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Court Orders Review of FBI Records on California Muslim Organizations as New Complaints Emerge in 2 States

April 30, 2009

Responding to claims that Muslim organizations have been illegally spied upon in southern California, a federal judge said on April 20, 2009 he will conduct a review of the FBI records. The decision comes after nearly three years of legal efforts by the ACLU and American Muslim groups to obtain information that they say would demonstrate illegal surveillance by the FBI. The FBI will have 30 days to deliver approximately 100 pages of related surveillance memos and the files on the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its leaders to the judge.

Judge Cormac J. Carney said after he receives the FBI files he will determine which, if any, can be released to the public and what must remain protected under federal law. In 2007 six Muslim groups and five individuals sued the FBI and the Department of Justice alleging the agency failed to turn over records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) a year earlier. The FBI had released largely redacted documents, claiming the information contained in the files were beyond the scope of the FOIA request.

Applauding the judge's decision, ACLU attorney, Jennie Pasquarella said, "There's a reason why they don't want to disclose this information. It will show why they've surveilled people and we think it might show they're surveilling people based on their religion."

This ruling comes in the wake of a steady decline in relations between the FBI and American Muslim groups. In March 2009, the American Muslim Taskforce, a coalition of Islamic groups, said they may boycott cooperation with FBI investigations after learning that a paid FBI informant was discovered in a southern California mosque.

More Revelations of FBI Surveillance Targeting Muslim Organizations

Concerns over the FBI informant in the California mosque have raised a red flag for many American Muslim groups and individuals who feel the FBI is targeting them for their religious beliefs. "The Somali Muslim community in particular feels that they are under siege by law enforcement," explained a spokesman for CAIR, describing the situation for Somali Muslims in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Repeated government intrusions of local Somali owned businesses, racial profiling and the use of "questionable" tactics to investigate a possible terrorist recruitment plan had made many American Muslim advocacy groups and local Somali Muslims feel threatened by the FBI.

Approximately 2,500 Somali Muslims live in the St. Louis area. Several have reported to local and national American Muslim advocacy groups that they have been contacted by the FBI to share information about fellow community members or threatened with immigration problems if they do not cooperate with FBI investigations. "They want some constant contact who will tell them news frequently, what's going on in the community, who's doing what, if there is are any guests coming along doing fundraising," said an official for the Masjid Bilal mosque in St. Louis.

In Michigan, American Muslim leaders asked U.S. Attorney general Eric Holder to investigate claims that the FBI sought out community members to spy on Islamic leaders and local congregations. Many of the complainants say the FBI promised to help resolve their immigration problems in exchange for their monitoring of mosques. Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of CAIR, said that there is no justification for the recent contacts made by the FBI into the American Muslim population and their actions amount to a "fishing expedition." "If there was a specific imam who they felt was telling people to support Osama bin Laden, that's a different story – we wouldn't have a problem with that," said Walid.