Personal Trainer Says FBI Used Him as Muslim-Community Informant
Los Angeles Times | The Associated Press | April 27, 2009
(AP) — As part of anti-terrorism efforts, FBI agents monitored popular gyms in Orange County, Calif., to gather intelligence about members of several area mosques, according to a man who claims to have been a key informant in the operation.
Sal Hernandez, director of the FBI's Los Angeles office, declined to comment on the matter Monday. Another law-enforcement source confirmed that the surveillance occurred but emphasized that it was a narrowly focused operation targeting people whom the informant already had implicated in alleged crimes.
The informant is Craig Monteilh, who said he posed as a Muslim convert at the request of the FBI to gather intelligence that might aid anti-terrorism investigators.
Monteilh, a muscular man with a background as a personal trainer, said he was instructed to lure mosque members to work out with him at local gyms. FBI agents, he said, later would obtain security-camera footage from the gyms and ask him to identify the people on the tapes and provide additional information about them. He said he was told that the agents then conducted background checks on the men, looking for anything that could be used to pressure them into becoming informants.
Disclosure of the FBI's tactics angered some leaders in the Muslim community in Orange County who saw it as a betrayal of their efforts to assist law enforcement after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The issue has reverberated nationwide.
Last week, a coalition of the nation's largest Muslim organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America, issued a statement demanding that the Obama administration address FBI actions, including what they described as the "infiltration of mosques" and the use of "agent provocateurs to trap unsuspecting Muslim youth."
"While the FBI does not comment on investigative techniques, it's absurd to suggest that FBI agents are randomly targeting Middle Eastern men or any other ethnic group for investigation," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Monteilh, 46, is a twice-convicted felon who says he was recruited by the FBI in 2006 to go undercover in the Islamic Center of Irvine, Calif.. where he said he pretended to be Farouk Al-Aziz, a Syrian-French American searching for his Islamic roots. He says he surreptitiously recorded conversations with members of several mosques and provided the recordings to the FBI.
Although FBI officials have declined to discuss Monteilh's alleged role in any investigation, a law-enforcement source confirmed that he worked as an informant.
Monteilh (pronounced Mahn-Tay) said the FBI stopped using him as an informant in 2007 after a supervisor questioned his credibility. He has since filed a legal claim against the bureau, accusing officials of reneging on promises to pay him $100,000 and place him in a witness-protection program.
In several recent interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Monteilh said he was encouraged to invite members of several mosques to join him for workouts at fitness centers in Irvine, Tustin, Laguna Niguel and Costa Mesa, Calif. Monteilh said he routinely led between eight and 15 men in a regimen of weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise. He said a car key operating as an electronic recording device captured whatever he and the men talked about.
About a month after the workouts began, Monteilh said one his "handlers" at the FBI started showing him photos that he was told were still shots taken by video surveillance cameras at the gyms. He said the agent typically showed him between 75 and 100 photos per meeting.
Monteilh identified the agent by name, but his identity is being withheld by the Times at the request of an FBI official who cited his involvement in unrelated covert activities.