WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union ( (ACLU) has called a controversial new scheme by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to base inquiries and wiretap goals on demographic data--including the number of mosques in a given area--ethnic and religious profiling of the kind that gave rise to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"This is blatant religious and ethnic profiling," said Dalia Hashad, ACLU's Arab, Muslim, and South Asian advocate. "After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, the FBI did not install more resources in areas with large populations of military veterans."
A major Islamic-American group also protested the plan Monday and called for it to be scrapped. "This policy makes as much sense as counting Catholic churches in America in order to initiate an investigation of the Mafia," the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) charged in a statement.
The scheme was first reported in the February 3 edition of Newsweek magazine. According to the report, orders have gone out from FBI headquarters for its 56 field offices to develop "demographic" profiles of their areas, including tallying the number of mosques. Those profiles will then be used to set specific numerical goals for counterterrorism and national-security wiretaps in each region. ACLU cited FBI officials as acknowledging that mosque tallies would be used to set quotas for investigations and wiretaps.
"Top bureau officials have signaled that if field offices don't meet their pre-established goals, they may be subjected to special reviews by inspection teams from headquarters," according to the Newsweek account, which noted that some FBI officials had raised concerns about the program.
The article quoted one "top FBI official" as saying that the plan arose due to concerns about undetected "sleeper cells" and evidence that some mosques were being used as cover for terrorist activity. "[I]t would be stupid not to look at this, given the number of criminal mosques that may be out there," the source was quoted as saying.
ACLU said the program is tailor-made for a witch hunt; instead of justifying why it is investigating a particular mosque, the FBI now has to justify why it is not. This notion, according to the group, is remarkably similar to the backdrop against which the Japanese-American internment 60 years ago was set.
"This misuse of resources is as ineffective as it is un-American, undermining both national security and civil liberties," said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU legislative counsel. "This Washington-driven plan requires trained and experienced field agents to use their limited resources to target Muslim communities and institutions -- even if the evidence doesn't back it up."
ACLU also noted how this may compound threats to civil liberties embodied in Attorney-General John Ashcroft's relaxation of FBI political spying guidelines last year that permit agents to monitor constitutionally protected religious activity without probable cause to suspect criminal activity. "The FBI guidelines encourage agents to infiltrate mosques and other houses of worship," Hashad said. "The mosque-counting scheme virtually guarantees this invasion."
The FBI has issued a statement countering claims made by the groups. "Any suggestion that the number of mosques in a field division is being used to set investigative goals for that division is wrong," according to the Bureau's assistant director Cassandra Chandler. "The survey, a small part of the FBI's much larger re-engineering effort, looked at a wide range of demographic and other measures."
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