Tracked By Spies and Informers

Tracked by Spies and Informers

By Julia A. Shearson

The February 26, 2009 revelation in the Los Angeles Times that FBI domestic intelligence informant and ex-convict Craig Monteilh and others were paid handsomely to spy on Muslim Americans in their houses of worship in Southern California should come as no surprise. Such domestic intelligence gathering has a history in the United States.

The annals of modern domestic surveillance in America are contained in the massive 1976 Church Committee Reports of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The reports, drafted by the Senate in the wake of the Watergate scandal, should have ended domestic intelligence abuses, but in the post-9/11 climate, their warnings and descriptions of crimes against liberty go unheeded.

The chapter entitled “The Use of Informants in FBI Domestic Intelligence Investigations” begins: “Men may be without restraints upon their liberty; they may pass to and fro at pleasure: but if their steps are tracked by spies and informers, their words noted down for crimination, their associates watched as conspirators—who shall say that they are free?”

This quote was borrowed from Sir Thomas May, the nineteenth-century author of The Constitutional History of England. May railed against the use of such spying practices by “continental despotisms” and claimed that “the freedom of a country may be measured by its immunity from this baleful agency.”

The Church reports, available on the Internet, are worth reading today in light of the FBI’s consolidation of domestic intelligence powers in the waning days of the Bush administration. Indeed, the December 1, 2008, issuance of the new investigative guidelines by Attorney General Mukasey was a major step in reconstituting the FBI as the United States’ premier domestic intelligence agency with the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces as their force multipliers on the ground.

We may be safer now because of this, but at what price for liberty? The new post-9/11 domestic intelligence regime, coupled with immense power, information technology, lack of congressional curiosity and lax Department of Justice oversight, has put our Bill of Rights in peril.

In short, the FBI has been sent headlong into what former vice president Cheney calls the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of keeping the country safe from terrorists. But the problem is the FBI cannot serve two masters: it cannot both serve the Constitution and get into the domestic intelligence trenches. History proves this.

Take just one investigative tool at the FBI’s disposal, the domestic intelligence informant. The Church reports note that “the paid and directed informant is the most extensively used technique in domestic intelligence investigations” and that once the criteria for opening an intelligence case were met, informants could be “used without any restrictions.” In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, the funding allocated for the intelligence informant program was twice that allocated for organized crime informants. At the height of the Civil Rights Era spying regimen, there were more than 7,400 informants in the Ghetto Informant Program alone. Even agents in the FBI were wary of that controversial program.

There was “no requirement that the decisions of the FBI to use informants be reviewed by anyone outside the Bureau.” This meant that the use of intelligence informants was not “subject to the standards which govern use of other intrusive techniques such as wiretapping and other forms of electronic surveillance.” Moreover the Church reports make clear that there was, and still is, a lack of judicial treatment of the constitutional issues surrounding intelligence informants because as the reports note, “Members of a group will seldom learn that an FBI intelligence informant has been in their midst or has copied their records for the FBI because intelligence investigations almost invariably do not result in prosecutions.”

The newly minted investigative guidelines rushed into place by then attorney general Mukasey on December 1, 2008, cement the FBI’s role as a de facto domestic intelligence agency. Mukasey claimed that the Department of Justice was merely streamlining the investigative playbook so that rules for criminal and national security investigations were more uniform. Yet, according to the Center for Democracy and Technology, the new guidelines “authorize the use of intrusive investigative techniques to collect information in the absence of particularized evidence of a crime or risk to national security.” This is a radical shift in FBI policy.

In fact, under the guise of streamlining its investigative powers, the FBI widened its use of “threat assessments” and “preliminary investigations” and increased the intrusiveness of the techniques available for such practices while it simultaneously eliminated the requirements of reporting such initial investigations to FBI headquarters. Moreover, the new guidelines increase from 10 to 30 days the time period during which a “full investigation” with the most intrusive of techniques can go forward without being reported by the field offices to the headquarters.

So, are other intelligence assets such as Craig Monteilh out there now spying on law-abiding Americans? Probably. Under the 1960s and 1970s domestic intelligence programs for spying on “subversives” and “extremists,” many people got swept up into the intelligence “vacuum cleaner”: college professors, union activists, ministers, women’s rights advocates, students, and so on. Does the Constitution permit the government to spy on American dissenters while it scouts for those who are planning actual violence?

How do we protect the country and its citizens without suppressing the right to dissent, the right to speak freely, and the rights to associate and to assemble? Do Americans really want the FBI back in the domestic intelligence business? Is the FBI’s new domestic intelligence apparatus a necessary post-9/11 evil? It is difficult to know, because it is unclear how the FBI’s new powers are being used. What is clear is that the powers are being used against the average Joe Muslim who keeps getting caught up in the “war on terror.”

Those with knee-jerk suspicion of everything Muslim seem to forget that the rights being compromised in the war on terror are their selfsame rights. Don’t the average Joe and the average Joe Muslim deserve to be free from being tracked by spies and informers?

Most Americans likely want to be free of prowling informants and provocateurs such as Monteilh. In fact, the average American, born with liberty in his gut, has never much liked a government that snoops. Although we want our government to investigate crime and to prevent terrorism, we expect those investigations to stay within constitutional limits.

As Patrick Henry said, “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government—lest it come to dominate our lives and interests” and as George Washington said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” It is not certain whether Washington or Henry would approve of the FBI’s renewed domestic intelligence powers, but it is certain they would want the Congress and the new attorney general to monitor the FBI through strict oversight.

If a well-informed consenting citizenry deems domestic intelligence gathering to be a necessary evil, it should be a closely watched evil, lest the well-intentioned but immensely powerful FBI begin repeating its shameful use of intelligence informants as “vacuum cleaners” of information with no limits on what they would report about a subject and his associates.

Julia A. Shearson is executive director of the Cleveland Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Metro Detroit Muslims & Arabs on Obama’s message to Iran



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Muslims heartened by Obama greeting

Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

The thought weaved through excited conversations in mosques throughout Metro Detroit on Friday, as Muslims gathered for their weekly, public prayer: Is this the beginning of the new era that local Muslims and Arab-American leaders have been urging for years?

News that President Barack Obama sent a video greeting to Iranians at the start of a major festival celebrating spring was perceived Friday as a significant change, even for a president who only seven days ago extended U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

“Having a true dialogue with Iran could move the whole region toward peaceful solutions,” said Ahmed Chebbani, chairman of the Dearborn-based U.S.-Arab Economic Forum, which seeks to build relations on the basis of commerce. “The region has been chaotic for years, and this is the type of approach that is needed to bring all parties to the table.”


Israeli President Shimon Peres also sent a holiday greeting to Iran, on the festival of Nowruz, or “new day.”

“The two things that surprised people is that President Obama sent this message to the Iranian people with subtitles in Farsi (the official language of Iran) as well as the very embracing tone of it,” said Dawud Walid, of the Southfield-based Council on American Islamic Relations. “It is unprecedented.”(MORE)


U.S. Muslim Coalition Considers Cutting Ties With FBI


U.S. Muslim Coalition Considers Suspending Relations With FBI

Move comes following incidents of FBI targeting mosques, Muslim groups


WASHINGTON, March 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A coalition* of major national Islamic organizations today announced that it is considering suspending outreach relations with the FBI, citing recent incidents in which American mosques and Muslim groups have been targeted.




In a statement, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), said:


Muslim communities throughout the United States have made significant advances in promoting and contributing to a fair, free and pluralistic society.


Through civil rights advocacy, civic and political engagement, and the promotion of dialogue with interfaith leaders and law enforcement agencies, Muslim Americans continue to be a positive and stabilizing force in keeping our nation safe and secure from acts of violence and foreign threats.


Despite fear-mongering by a vocal minority, Muslim Americans are natural allies of law enforcement agencies in ensuring the wellbeing of our nation. Muslims are law-abiding and productive citizens who uphold the democratic principles of freedom, equality and justice.


Yet recent incidents targeting American Muslims lead us to consider suspending ongoing outreach efforts with the FBI.


In California, the FBI sent a convicted criminal to pose as an agent provocateur in several of that state’s mosques. An FBI agent allegedly told one of the mosque attendees that the agency would make his life a “living hell” if he did not become an informant.


The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) wrote in a recent statement, headlined “FBI Losing Partnership with American Muslim Community” – “Trust is the cornerstone of any partnership between law enforcement and communities. It can only be established and maintained through clear and open communication. Without this, trust is eroded and suspicions arise on all sides. This clearly does not serve anyone’s interests… It is now up to the FBI and law enforcement agencies to re-engage with the Muslim American community, and re-build trust and respect.”


See: FBI Losing Partnership with American Muslim Community


Early last fall, the FBI began a disengagement campaign in its relations with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest and most respected Muslim civil rights organization. The FBI suspended contacts with CAIR pending the resolution of unspecified “issues.”


In response, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization of many Muslim groups, suspended outreach to the FBI in February. The council’s letter to the FBI stated in part:


“Our commitment to ensuring the rights, interests, and prosperity of American Muslims and all Americans is unconditional. We hope the FBI will have the foresight to restore its relationship with such a vital link to the American Muslim community.”




We believe the FBI’s unjustified actions are based on the May 2007 designation of some 300 groups and individuals, including several major American Muslim groups such as CAIR, the Islamic society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), as “unindicted co-conspirators” (UCC) in conjunction with the Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, Texas.


Making this unjust designation public violates the Justice Department’s own guidelines and wrongly implies that those listed are somehow involved in criminal activity.


Bias and faulty premises dominated post-9/11 law enforcement analysis of the Muslim community and the threat assessment to national security. The waning days of the previous administration witnessed a flourishing of anti-Muslim activity.


There is even inter-agency information being disseminated that claims civil rights advocacy is part of a Muslim conspiracy to implement Shari’a law in order to destroy the United States. Recent government actions seemed to be based on this bizarre premise.


These McCarthy-era tactics are detrimental to a free society.


The credibility of all Muslim organizations who maintain ties to the FBI that do not react decisively is undermined in the eyes of the community. Our fear is that counter-intelligence programs are quelling lawful dissent.


What is most frightening is that FBI abuses are no longer covert, and are slowly being integrated into the already expansive laws regulating law enforcement activity.


Internationally, in light of President Obama’s initiative of dialogue with the Muslim world, such actions negatively impact U.S. interests.


If the FBI does not accord fair and equitable treatment to every American Muslim organization, including CAIR, ISNA and NAIT, then Muslim organizations, mosques and individuals will have no choice but to consider suspending all outreach activities with FBI offices, agents and other personnel. This possible suspension, of course, would in no way affect our unshakable duty to report crimes or threats of violence to our nation.


We call on the FBI to reassess its positions on profiling and the use of informants as agents provocateurs within the Muslim communities. We further request objective evaluation of the sources of information and analysis utilized to formulate decisions.


Notwithstanding such requests, we call on Muslim organizations and individuals to petition their elected representatives to hold hearings to address these grave matters of concern to the Muslim community.


We fully expect that the President’s calls for inclusion will not be derailed by irresponsible elements in and outside of government fomenting anti-Muslim bias in this great nation.



* Signatories to this statement include:


American Muslim Alliance (AMA)

American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Islamic Educational Center of Orange County (IEC)

Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)

Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA)

Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation (MAS-FF)

Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N)

Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA)

United Muslims of America (UMA)


To add your organization, mosque or Islamic center as a signatory to this statement, e-mail:


Media Contact: AMT Chair Dr. Agha Saeed, Tel: 510-299-9313, E-Mail: