[Ppnews] Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 29 10:17:59 EDT 2009
October 29, 2009
Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns
WASHINGTON After a Somali-American teenager
from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in
Africa in October 2008, the
Bureau of Investigation began investigating
whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.
Instead of collecting information only on people
about whom they had a tip or links to the
teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali
communities, including in Seattle and Columbus,
Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush
administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.
The F.B.I.s interpretation of those rules was
recently made public when it released, in
response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its
Investigations and Operations Guide.; The
disclosure of the manual has opened the widest
window yet onto how agents have been given
greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.
In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it
needed greater flexibility to hunt for would-be
terrorists inside the United States. But the
manuals details have alarmed privacy advocates.
One section lays out a low threshold to start
investigating a person or group as a potential
security threat. Another allows agents to use
ethnicity or religion as a factor as long as it
is not the only one when selecting subjects for scrutiny.
It raises fundamental questions about whether a
domestic intelligence agency can protect civil
liberties if they feel they have a right to
collect broad personal information about people
they dont even suspect of wrongdoing, said Mike
German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for
Civil Liberties Union.
But Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.s general
counsel, said the bureau has adequate safeguards
to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a threat.
Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect
information on a person or group unless there is
a specific reason to suspect that the target is
up to no good seriously miss the mark, Ms.
Caproni said. The F.B.I. has been told that we
need to determine who poses a threat to the
national security not simply to investigate
persons who have come onto our radar screen.
The manual authorizes agents to open an
assessment to proactively seek information
about whether people or organizations are
involved in national security threats.
Agents may begin such assessments against a
target without a particular factual
justification. The basis for such an inquiry
cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,
the manual says, but the standard is difficult to define.
Assessments permit agents to use potentially
intrusive techniques, like sending confidential
informants to infiltrate organizations and
following and photographing targets in public.
F.B.I. agents previously had similar powers when
looking for potential criminal activity. But
until the recent changes, greater justification
was required to use the powers in national
security investigations because they receive less judicial oversight.
If agents turn up something specific to suggest
wrongdoing, they can begin a preliminary or
full investigation and use additional
techniques, like wiretapping. But even if agents
find nothing, the personal information they
collect during assessments can be retained in
F.B.I. databases, the manual says.
When selecting targets, agents are permitted to
consider political speech or religion as one
criterion. The manual tells agents not to engage
in racial profiling, but it authorizes them to
take into account specific and relevant ethnic
behavior and to identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities.
Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates,
said the F.B.I. was harassing Muslim-Americans by
singling them out for scrutiny. Her group was
among those that sued the bureau to release the manual.
We have seen even in recent months the
revelation of the F.B.I. going into mosques not
where they have a specific reason to believe
there is criminal activity, but as agent
provocateurs who are trying to incite young
individuals to join a purported terror plot, Ms.
Khera said. We think the F.B.I. should be
focused on following actual leads rather than
putting entire communities under the microscope.
Ms. Caproni, the F.B.I. lawyer, denied that the
bureau engages in racial profiling. She cited the
search for signs of the Somali group,
Shabaab, linked to the Minneapolis teenager to
illustrate why the manual allows agents to
consider ethnicity when deciding where to look.
In that case, the bureau worried that other such
teenagers might return from Somalia to carry out domestic operations.
Agents are trained to ignore ethnicity when
looking for groups that have no ethnic tie, like
environmental extremists, she said, but if you
are looking for Al Shabaab, you are looking for Somalis.
Among the manuals safeguards, agents must use
the least intrusive investigative method that
effectively accomplishes the operational
objective. When infiltrating an organization,
agents cannot sabotage its legitimate social or
political agenda, nor lead it into criminal
activity that otherwise probably would not have occurred.
Portions of the manual were redacted, including
pages about undisclosed participation in an
organizations activities by agents or
informants, requesting information without
revealing F.B.I. affiliation or the true purpose
of a request, and using ethnic/racial demographics.
The attorney general guidelines for F.B.I.
operations date back to 1976, when a
Congressional investigation by the so-called
Church Committee uncovered decades of illegal
domestic spying by the bureau on groups perceived
to be subversive including civil rights,
womens rights and antiwar groups under the
bureaus longtime former director,
Edgar Hoover, who died in 1972.
The Church Committee proposed that rules for the
F.B.I.s domestic security investigations be
written into federal law. To forestall
legislation, the attorney general in the Ford
administration, Edward Levi, issued his own
guidelines that established such limits internally.
Since then, administrations of both parties have
repeatedly adjusted the guidelines.
In September 2008, Attorney General
B. Mukasey signed the new F.B.I. guidelines that
expanded changes begun under his predecessor,
Ashcroft, after the Sept. 11 attacks. The
guidelines went into effect and the F.B.I.
completed the manual putting them into place last December.
There are no signs that the current attorney
H. Holder Jr., plans to roll back the changes. A
spokeswoman said Mr. Holder was monitoring them
to see how well they work and would make refinements if necessary.
The F.B.I., however, is revising the manual. Ms.
Caproni said she was taking part in weekly
high-level meetings to evaluate suggestions from
agents and expected about 20 changes.
Many proposals have been requests for greater
flexibility. For example, some agents said
requirements that they record in F.B.I. computers
every assessment, no matter how minor, were too
time consuming. But Ms. Caproni said the rule
aided oversight and would not be changed.
She also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its
duty to protect freedom while preventing
terrorist attacks. I dont like to think of us
as a spy agency because that makes me really
nervous, she said. We dont want to live in an
environment where people in the United States
think the government is spying on them. Thats an
oppressive environment to live in and we dont want to live that way.
What the public should understand, she continued,
is that the F.B.I. is seeking to become a more
intelligence-driven agency that can figure out
how best to deploy its agents to get ahead of potential threats.
And to do that, she said, you need information.
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San Francisco, CA 94110
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