WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–FBI Director Robert Mueller has instructed field agents to begin counting local mosques to determine goals for counterterrorism investigations and secret wiretaps.
The policy, revealed last month in a published report, has come under fire from congressmen and national civil rights and advocacy groups. They are asking the Department of Justice to rescind the policy, which calls for FBI field offices nationwide to develop demographic profiles of their regions, including the number of local mosques.
The profiles will then be used to set specific numerical goals for investigations and wiretaps in each area. If field offices do not meet their goals, they may be subjected to special reviews by teams from FBI headquarters.
In a joint letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-Wisc.) wrote: “We write to ask you to immediately terminate the Justice Department’s new policy directing the 56 FBI field offices to count the number of mosques and Muslims, as well as other community groups and religious organizations, in their areas.
“We cannot sanction the targeting of Muslim populations and mosques, or any other community group or institution, to gather intelligence without any suspicion or cause that a specific individual or group of individuals, or a particular mosque or religious organization, is engaging in terrorist activities. We urge you to follow the constitutionality prescribed channels of investigation to ensure that the rights of American citizens are not violated,” the letter stated.
The policy is directed toward the bureau’s 56 regional field offices. Critics learned of the plan last month when they received a six-page questionnaire, which–under a section titled “Vulnerabilities”–asked them to indicate the number of mosques in their communities.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes the program is tailor-made for a witch-hunt, saying, instead of justifying why it’s investigating a particular mosque, the FBI now has to justify why it is not. The initial vision of the program is remarkably similar to the mechanics of the Japanese-American internment during World War II, which was based and organized around census data.
“This is blatant religious and ethnic profiling,” said Dalia Hashad, the ACLU’s Arab, Muslim and South Asian advocate. “After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, the FBI did not install more resources in areas with large populations of military veterans.”
Also of concern to the ACLU is the potential waste of resources under this quota regime.
“This misuse of resources is as ineffective as it is un-American, undermining both national security and civil liberties,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU legislative counsel. “This Washington-driven plan requires trained and experienced field agents to use their limited resources to target Muslim communities and institutions–even if the evidence doesn’t back it up.”
FBI officials have acknowledged that the mosque tallies would be used to set these quotas.
“This policy makes about as much sense as counting Catholic churches in America in order to initiate an investigation of the Mafia, or as claiming the number of African Methodist Episcopal churches in a given area is indicative of the level of criminal activity,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The mosque-counting plan would be similar in implication, the ACLU said, to the relaxation of the FBI political spying guidelines last year. The FBI guidelines–installed in the mid-1970s after revelations about character assassination campaigns against political figures such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–were rewritten by Attorney General John Ashcroft to allow the FBI to spy on constitutionally protected religious or political activity without suspicion of criminal activity or intent.
“The FBI guidelines encourage agents to infiltrate mosques and other houses of worship,” Ms. Hashad said. “The mosque-counting scheme virtually guarantees this invasion.”
Mr. Awad added that the mosque-counting policy comes in the midst of an INS registration program for boys and men over the age of 16 from certain Middle Eastern countries. The program resulted in hundreds of American Muslims being detained, and sometimes deported.
Muslim community leaders and immigration-rights activists say that program is also based on religious and ethnic profiling, a law enforcement tactic that is being heavily promoted by right-wing pundits.
A few weeks ago, author Daniel Pipes, who many American Muslims regard as the nation’s leading Islamophobe, suggested that all Muslims in this country be placed under surveillance.
He wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military, and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches, synagogues and temples.”