Congress Must Hold Hearings On Sweeping Surveillance

By Dawud Walid -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Jan 11, 2010 - 3:22:02 PM

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Congress must convene hearings into the sweeping surveillance of American Muslim organizations and mosques that threatens the foundational spirit of the United States Constitution.

Due to national security concerns prompted by the tragedy of 9/11, Americans have witnessed a steady erosion of their constitutional rights. From NSA warrantless wiretapping to new FBI guidelines that allow ethnicity and religion to be primary factors in conducting initial threat assessments, our government wields unprecedented authority to monitor its own citizens.

Graphic: MGN Online/Ledelle Muhammad
Within the past year, a number of advocacy groups and concerned citizens have questioned the inappropriate monitoring of Muslim nonprofit organizations by the government and the use of agent provocateurs who attempt to incite members of mosques to commit crimes that they otherwise would not have committed.

In June 2009, the ACLU released a report titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity,” which details American Muslims being harassed for donating to legally operating Islamic charities and organizations. The report also addressed the concern that an increasing number of Muslims are being approached by the FBI to act as informants in their mosques in exchange for visas, citizenship or criminal charges being dropped.

In the spring of 2009 in Irvine, California, an FBI informant claimed that he lured young Muslim men to a gym in an attempt to incite them to make incriminating statements by them to wage war against their own country. Meanwhile in New York, four Muslim men were arrested for driving a vehicle to the Bronx in an alleged terrorist conspiracy that appears to have been totally concocted and financed by the FBI through an agent provocateur. One of the arrestees was a homeless schizophrenic, and another was a desperate soul who was offered money to pay for a dying sibling's liver transplant.

These and a number of other instances that have taken place since including one which led to the unprecedented fatal shooting of a Muslim cleric by FBI officers in Dearborn have come to a crescendo with the chilling revelation that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) improperly spied on the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 2007. It appears that the NOI reemerged as a target of government surveillance because it allegedly engages in “highly volatile and extreme rhetoric,” though the DHS admitted that the NOI “has neither advocated violence nor engaged in violence.”

Such Orwellian monitoring is reminiscent of the federal government's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which stretched from the 1950's into the early 1970's. Under COINTELPRO, churches, civil rights organizations, and peace groups were infiltrated by informants. Many activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were monitored because of their political views ranging from racial profiling to the Vietnam War. Astute pupils of history know that history repeats itself, and it appears that American Muslims are currently being subjected to similar measures.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church chaired the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, which unearthed a plethora of immoral and un-American surveillance activities by the FBI and military intelligence against American citizens. In 2010, Congress should hold similar hearings to determine the extent to which such activities are taking place today.

In order for our nation to truly trumpet the ideas of freedom, justice and equality to the world, we must not be afraid to examine our own policies to ensure that no American is unduly deprived of basic civil rights and liberties. If we fail in this regard, not only do we lose, but the whole world loses.

(Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations—Michigan Chapter)

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Cointelpro 2009: FBI up to old dirty tricks? (FCN, 04-18-2009)