San Francisco & Sacramento – The American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a lawsuit on Aug. 24 against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to speed the release of FBI records on the investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area.
The civil rights organizations and The Bay Guardian have requested the records in order to understand and to report on whether and how the FBI is:
- Investigating Islamic centers and mosques (as well as Christian churches and Jewish synagogues);
- "Assessing" religious leaders;
- Infiltrating communities through the use of undercover agents and informants;
- Training agents in Islam and Muslim culture; and
- Using race, religion and national origin in deciding whom to investigate; and
identifying particular schools for its Junior Agent Program.
"Clear information about the FBI's activities is necessary in order to understand the scope of their surveillance tactics to assess whether they have had a chilling effect on the right to worship freely or to exercise other forms of expression," said Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California.
"This lawsuit is about transparency. The public is entitled to this information under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI admitted in March that our clients' FOIA requests are entitled to expedited processing because of the widespread media attention on these issues, but the government has yet to provide them a single document," said attorney Raj Chatterjee of the law firm Morrison & Foerster.
The records are sought in part in response to concerns reported extensively in the New York Times, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, NBC Bay Area, New America Media, and other publications about the chilling effects of possible racial and religious profiling and the potential harm such tactics may have on national security.
Also of interest to the civil rights organizations are details on whether FBI agents are recruiting Muslim and Arab children at Bay Area schools to serve in the agency's Junior Agent Program.
Over the past several months, community members from Berkeley, Fresno, Visalia and San Jose, among other cities, have contacted the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus to share their personal experiences about visits by FBI agents and to voice broader community anxiety over attempts by the FBI to recruit informants and infiltrators.
"We get calls from community members, leaders, and organizations every week regarding unwanted FBI attention," explained Veena Dubal, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. "We need to understand the FBI's own policies and practices so that the communities we serve can make informed comments and seek policy changes as appropriate."