NEW YORK — Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates show that the FBI has been targeting communities in America for investigation based on race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, and Dearborn’s Arab American and Muslim communities are among those targeted.
The documents show that the FBI has been collecting information on Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan using the argument that “because Michigan has a large Middle Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by… terrorist groups,” a release by the ACLU said.
According to the documents, FBI analysts across the country are associating criminal behaviors with certain groups and then using U.S. Census data and other demographic information to map where those communities are located before investigating them.
The specific document showing the FBI’s investigating of Michigan’s Middle Eastern and Muslim population was from a 2009 Detroit FBI field office memorandum that references groups deemed to be terrorist in nature by the State Department as originating in the Middle East and South Asia.
FBI agents then began to collect information about those communities in Michigan despite no evidence of any wrongdoing and based only on a generalized and unsubstantiated threat assertion, according to the ACLU.
Other groups targeted were the African American community in Georgia, the Chinese community in San Francisco, where ethnic mapping and investigations occurred, and Latino communities in Alabama, New Jersey and Georgia.
“The use of profiling as a tool to address crime and national security threats is not only unconstitutional, it is ineffective and counterproductive,” said Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and a former FBI agent. “Targeting entire communities for investigation based on erroneous stereotypes produces flawed intelligence. Experience shows that terrorists and criminals do not fit into neat racial or religious stereotypes – law enforcement programs based on evidence and facts are effective, and a system of bias and mass suspicion is not.”
In response to the ACLU release, Detroit Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Andy Arena said that accusations of profiling were not accurate.
“I would not describe it as racial profiling, it is geo-spacial mapping and domain awareness, it’s about knowing the area that you serve,” he said.
“All it basically is looking at the makeup of communities across the board, not any specific person, and learning about who are potential victims and targets but not targeting any specific individual or group.”
His office also said that it is mainly responding to profiling allegations with a statement on the FBI’s website. The statement said: “FBI joins the ACLU in opposing racial or ethnic discrimination. The AG Guidelines and the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) clearly prohibit the predication of investigative activity solely on the exercise of First Amendment rights, including freedom of religion, or on race or ethnicity. The FBI does not investigate individuals, groups, or communities based on ethnicity or race.
“Certain terrorist and criminal groups target particular ethnic and geographic communities for victimization and/or recruitment purposes. This reality must be taken into account when determining if there are threats to the United States.
“These efforts are intended to address specific threats, not particular communities.”
The full statement can be read on FBI.gov under the News tab.
“This has been an ongoing issue of a challenge and a matter of discussion,” said Imad Hamad, head of the American-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn and BRIDGES co-founder.
“Nobody is against the safety and security of our country but that does not justify open-ended spying methods against members of our community (that are unconstitutional).
Osama Siblani, the spokesman for the Congress of Arab American Organizations and publisher of The Arab American News, has repeatedly told reports that working with the community pays more dividends than spying on it, noting a program following the 9/11 attacks when the BRIDGES organization convinced FBI agents to call ahead before knocking on doors to have residents fill out optional surveys for information-gathering purposes.
“The FBI’s own documents confirm our worst fears about how it is using its overly expansive surveillance and racial profiling authority. The FBI has targeted minority American communities around the country for investigation based not on suspicion of actual wrongdoing, but on the crudest stereotypes about which groups commit different types of crimes,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is entirely within Attorney General Holder’s power to put an immediate end to these unconstitutional practices by changing the internal Justice Department and FBI rules that permit them to occur.”
“The FBI has never stated that they don’t actively engage in it, but at the same time the findings are very alarming and merit serious attention.”
The documents are being released as part of a new ACLU initiative called “Mapping the FBI,” which aims to expose misconduct and abuse of authority by the bureau. Instances of profiling revealed in the FBI memos and intelligence notes include:
In 2003, the Justice Department issued its “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies,” which prohibited racial and ethnic profiling in all contexts except in national security and border integrity investigations. Exploiting this loophole, the FBI claimed the authority to analyze the geographic concentrations of racial and ethnic communities in an internal manual called the “Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide,” which was issued in December 2008. This program, called “Domain Management,” is not limited to national security investigations, and the ACLU believes that it violates the Constitution. Last week, the organization sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to address the problem.
The documents also reveal FBI counter-terrorism training materials portraying Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S. as primitive, violent and supporters of terrorism. The documents show that these materials have been in use since at least 2003 through this year.
A 2008 textbook, produced by the FBI and West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, contains essays claiming that Islam is inherently violent, that Muslims and Arabs are intrinsically “different” from other Americans and should be treated with suspicion, and that religious practices and political activism by Muslims and Arabs are signs of increasing danger. The FBI has committed to reviewing its training materials.