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UncategorizedFBI has to release surveillance documents

FBI has to release surveillance documents

Federal judge says that spying on Muslim and Arab communities may have no legitimate law-enforcement purpose

Large parts of FBI documents were redacted using an exemption that a federal judge found invalid
Large parts of FBI documents were redacted using an exemption that a federal judge found invalid

By Tim Redmond

MARCH 24, 2015 – In a major victory for open government, a federal judge has ruled that the FBI can’t user a blanket “law-enforcement” exemption to keep secret records about its surveillance programs.

Judge Richard Seeborg ruled that much of the intelligence-gathering the feds have used to collect information on Muslim communities in the Bay Area had no fvalid law-enforcement purpose.

That means documents related to that surveillance can’t be kept secret under the law-enforcement exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.

The ruling comes in a five-year-old case filed by the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the now-shuttered Bay Guardian seeking records of FBI spying activities.

The documents already released show alarming patterns of abuse: The FBI routinely engaged in racial profiling and used training materials with derogatory stereotypes of Muslim and Arab Americans.

The documents showed, as the Guardian reported in 2012, that “The FBI’s modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous — and really, really stupid.”

Among other things, those materials contained statements like “The Arab mind is a Cluster thinker, while the Western mind tends to be a linear thinker” and that Islam “alleviated some of the weaknesses that inflicted the Arab mind.”

The legal brief filed by the ACLU, with the cooperation of the law firm Morrison and Foerster, points out that the FBI has moved significantly away from its original mission of law enforcement, and has directed resources away from crime fighting and into its domestic spy programs.

The agency has released more than 50,000 pages of documents to the ACLU, but in many cases, key elements of those records have been withheld or redacted.

The law allows federal agencies to keep secret documents directly related to law enforcement activities. But as the ACLU argued in court, if the FBI spy program has no credible relationship to any valid law-enforcement purpose, that exemption shouldn’t apply.

Judge Seeborg agreed. The agency could not demonstrate any rational connection between parts of its domestic surveillance program and any law-enforcement need, he wrote – which means that exemption to the FOIA act is invalid:

Because the FBI’s explanation of the link between its law enforcement activities and the particular documents withheld fails to meet the [applicable] ‘rational nexus’ standard . . ., the FBI is altogether precluded from withholding information under [the law enforcement exemption].

Now the agency will have to meet with the plaintiffs and work out agreements on further disclosure that may shed more light on the domestic surveillance program and its tactics.

And while the ruling is only a district court decision, and thus sets no formal precedent, it confirms that spying is often different from legitimate law enforcement and may help further efforts to shed light on current FBI activities that involve the surveillance of American citizens who are not suspected of any specific crime.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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15 COMMENTS

  1. I never said all Arabs commit terrorism. That is ridiculous. But when there is a corpus of terrorism deriving from the Arab world, and there clearly is with AQ, ISIS and the rest, then it is reasonable to call that “Arab Terrorism” to distinguish it from, say, New Zealand terrorism or Swedish terrorism.

  2. As there is not an inherit characteristic among all Arabs that makes them all terrorists, it is racist (and incorrect) to use the blanket term “Arab terrorism” when we are mostly talking about religious extremists, some of whom are Arab, but many others are not Arab.

  3. No, I am showing how illogical it is to ignore information we have about the demographics of those who threaten us

  4. “Arab terrorism” ? You’re so racist that you don’t even know when you are being a racist.

  5. Gary, you very specifically criticized the use of racial profiling in our fight against Arab terrorism. What possible way is there to interpret that other than as a demand that we somehow pretend that Arab terrorism is not being conducted by Arabs?

  6. Yes, Ragazzu, clearly we should immediately disband the CIA, the NSA and whole chunks of the FBI. And give up on spying and the secret services.

    That is right up there with Gary’s genius idea that we profile Norwegians and Taiwanese in our relentless war against Arab terrorists.

    It’s a good thing we have you two on the case here. We sleep better at night knowing you guys have our backs.

  7. The court decreed the spying had no valid law enforcement value. Redmond reported that. (Choose wiser fights, Sam. You’re boring us to tears.)

  8. On the contrary, you responded to a piece about Arab terrorism by suggesting that we should not racially profile. I refuted that by showing that it is in the very nature of Arab terrorism that they are, er, Arabs. If we were to instead profile Norwegian grandmothers, that would not be a smart move.

    (Unless of course they start recruiting Norwegian grandmothers. Good luck with that.)

    Calling someone a troll is really an admission that you have no real response, Duly noted.

  9. Once again, you are trolling. I didn’t write that we should ignore that ‘they’ are Arabs. You wrote that to get a reaction, not to engage in conversation.

    You are being willfully ignorant – you know exactly what I was getting at an yet you post nonsense in response.

    And like many trolls with inflated egos, you have the audacity to insist that Tim needs you to explain the “meanings of words like Arab and secret.”

    I’m sure you will respond consistent with #8 on the Characteristics of a Classic Internet Troll list:

    “8) Acts innocent when called a troll, and states “I’m just stating a contrary opinion, and you can’t handle it”, but the reality is they are not innocent, they are trouble-makers who only post inflammatory remarks, rarely contributing any real value or good information to a discussion.”

  10. So your great insight into how we should fight against Arab terrorism is that we should ignore the fact that they are Arabs?

    As far as Tim’s article goes, I think he misunderstands that one of the points of our secret service is that they are, er, secret.

    Evidently part of my mission here is to explain the meanings of words like “Arab” and “secret”.

  11. I’m finally reading “Season of the Witch.” Interesting to note the parallels between this current example of abuse and what happened during the Zebra murders, and how the senseless profiling back then swept up more than 500 black men in 3 days. The operation was later found to be unconstitutional.

    As the song asks, when will we ever learn?

Comments are closed.

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