Thursday, March 26, 2009

FBI: Less Drama, More National Security?

FBI Spying on Mosques Draws Senate Attention; Rights Workshop Helps Local Muslims Deal With the Feds

Thursday, Mar. 26 2009
By Matt Coker in A Clockwork Orange, OC Religion

Orange County Weekly

A Senate Judiciary Committee questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday about a Muslim coalition's consideration of breaking ties with the bureau following the highly publicized federal government spying on an Irvine mosque.

Meanwhile, a workshop has been organized for this Sunday to help local American Muslims deal with this frightening new twist in the "Global War on Terror." Details on that in a bit.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) told Mueller he was "disappointed" to learn of the AMT statement in light of recent discussions urging "the FBI to gain the trust of the American Muslim community to assist in the effort to stop terrorism."

Reading from a news report where AMT claims the FBI has pressured Muslims to become informants, labeled civil rights advocates as criminals and spread misinformation, Feingold had a question for Mueller: "Can you determine and report to this committee whether mosques have been entered by FBI agents or informants without disclosing their identities under the authority of the attorney general guidelines and, if so, how many?"

(New Justice Department guidelines that took effect in December have lowered the threshold for beginning FBI investigations, allowing race and ethnicity to be factors in opening a probe. The ACLU has a fact sheet on the guidelines here.)

Replied Mueller: "I will say that we do not focus on institutions, we focus on individuals. And I will say generally if there is evidence or information as to individual or individuals undertaking illegal activities in religious institutions, with appropriate high-level approval, we would undertake investigative activities, regardless of the religion. But it would -- we would single that out as an exceptionally sensitive circumstance that would require much vetting before that occurred..."

Feingold then asked if the new attorney general guidelines are helping or hurting the FBI's relationship with the U.S. Muslim community, and what the bureau plans to do in light of the AMT statement to improve relations. Mueller responded that his "expectation is that our relationships are as good now as before the guidelines" and he added that the Muslim community "has been tremendously supportive and worked very closely with [the FBI] in a number of instances around the country."