San Francisco – Today, Senator Dick Durbin is holding a Senate Judiciary Sub-committee hearing on the civil rights violations endured by American Muslims. This timely hearing comes on the heels of a report by the New York Times revealing that the FBI is using its intelligence gathering powers, which were expanded significantly during the Bush years, to investigate thousands of people and groups without any factual evidence that they have done anything wrong. The FBI admits to compiling 70,000 files on Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Alarmingly, this number is growing by over 11,000 files every four months.
Many Bay Area police departments, including San Francisco and Oakland, assign officers to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) where they participate in FBI investigative activity. In the past, local police departments have made public their "Memorandums of Understanding" (MOU) with the FBI which guide the activities of local police officers assigned to the JTTF. These MOUs have historically contained assurances that officers are required to follow state law and department guidelines. The California Constitution, unlike the new FBI guidelines, prohibits the gathering of intelligence without fact-based suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.
For months, in response to complaints from the American Muslim community, many of whom feel they are being unfairly targeted in government intelligence gathering activities, civil liberties organizations have been requesting the San Francisco Police Department and Oakland Police Department MOU's with the FBI and have been stonewalled. Recently, it was revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request that the standard MOU used in the Bay Area now allows police assigned to the JTTF to violate local privacy policies, such as those that have been in place for years in Oakland and San Francisco and that reflect state constitutional standards.
In view of the utter lack of transparency about whose rules are being followed, today the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC), Asian Law Caucus (ALC), and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) call for an immediate halt to the San Francisco and Oakland Police Departments' participation in JTTF operations until they publicly release their now-secret agreements with the FBI and provide assurances that their officers are adhering to the standards of state and local law.
Alan Schlosser, Legal Director of the ACLU-NC stated, "Under the state constitution and local policies, Californians are protected against government intelligence gathering unless there is a factual basis to suspect them of wrongdoing. It is now clear that the FBI has been authorized to conduct thousands of investigations that are just fishing expeditions and run contrary to California law. It is an outrage that San Francisco and Oakland police officials are not being forthcoming about whether their JTTF officers are complying with state and local law."
Neither San Francisco nor Oakland police department has yet to make available their specific MOU with the FBI that governs the activities of officers assigned to the JTTF. In Oakland, the police department has made clear that they did not retain a copy of their agreement and that the FBI has refused to provide a copy to them.
Veena Dubal, Staff Attorney in the National Security and Civil Rights Program at the ALC said, "The FBI is investigating innocent Americans. We are concerned that limited local resources may be wasted on investigating individuals without criminal suspicion. Right now, SFPD and OPD effectively have secret agreements with the FBI. Unless and until those agreements are made public and assurances are given that local police cannot investigate people without criminal suspicion, San Francisco and Oakland police departments must withdraw from the JTTF."
In explaining why these tactics do not aid our national security, Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of CAIR-SFBA, said, "Community trust is the most important tool of law enforcement. By infiltrating organizations and interviewing people who they do not suspect of any wrongdoing, the FBI is obfuscating their ability to counter domestic crime. We do not want our local law enforcement in the same predicament."