FBI community mapping and COINTELPRO 2.0
Published • Sun, Oct 30, 2011
By Dawud Walid
The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) recent release of FBI documents showing the federal agency’s mapping and profiling of marginalized groups based on race and religion summons the need for the Obama administration to re-check its commitment to civil rights and deserves a congressional probe into FBI protocols, which facially appear to be unconstitutional.
In December 2008, in the last days of the Bush administration, the FBI issued an internal manual called the Domestic Investigation and Operational Guide (DIOG), which authorized agents to collect information on groups that have “specific and relevant ethnic behavior” for the purpose of analyzing “potential threats and vulnerabilities” to our nation. The DIOG, as a matter of procedure, has allowed the FBI to open threat assessments on people partially predicated upon race and ethnicity despite previous Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance issued in 2003 that prohibited law enforcement from using race in “any degree” to open up investigations except when describing specific subjects of already committed crimes.
Though the ACLU is waiting to procure more documents, the information received has revealed the mapping and profiling of minorities. Such mapping, which is purportedly done in the name of national security, is problematic not only because it implies that our government sanctions prejudice against people of color, but is also a flawed method that is not based upon empirical data for investigating threats. The Detroit field office of the FBI and its intelligence gathering on Muslims gives a primary example of how such activities are not only prejudicial and flawed, but also can have tragic consequences.
Though Muslims have resided in Michigan in significant populations for approximately 100 years and have been overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens not involved in violent extremism, the Detroit field office stated Michigan is “prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment” for terrorists because of its high concentration of Muslims. However, related to domestic terrorism in our nation since 1985, 94 percent of terrorism and planned terrorism attacks were committed by non-Muslims.
The FBI would not foolishly map whites just because white supremacists — many of whom are now part of militia groups — have historically been the greatest purveyors of domestic terrorism and such groups have been on the rise since the election of the United State’s first Black president. Of course, racial mapping of white people would not only not make America any safer, but would be vigorously challenged as discriminatory or “reverse racism.”
Such targeting of minority communities is nothing new for the FBI. It took place during the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, in which minority groups were subjected to broad-brush mapping, infiltration through informants and agent provocateurs and psychological warfare.
The brakes were placed on the original version of COINTELPRO through a Senate committee hearing chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, which investigated the unconstitutional tactics of the FBI. Besides the need for the Obama administration to scale back the DIOG, which actually has now been expanded during his administration, Congress must hold hearings on the training practices of the FBI and their intelligence gathering activities.
As we mark the two-year anniversary of the tragic homicide of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Detroit by FBI agents, in which informants infiltrated his mosque without predication of ongoing crime, it is critical that the vast authority given to the FBI to be involved in preemptive intelligence gathering is brought to a halt.
We want the FBI to perform its mission, but not in a prejudicial manner that jeopardizes our privacy and other civil liberties. Say yes to greater transparency and greater trust between the community and the FBI and say no to ethnic and religious profiling and COINTELPRO 2.0.
Dawud Walid is executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI).