The FBI's modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous -- and really, really stupid
Communities in San Francisco have been the victims of this prejudicial loophole more than once. In 2009, the ACLU reported that the FBI justified mapping and investigating the Chinese American population in the city because "within this community there has been organized crime for generations." Likewise, the bureau collected demographic data on the Russian population because of the "Russian criminal enterprises" known to exist in San Francisco.
The loophole, however, may not even apply to these investigations in the first place.
According to Michael German, a 16-year veteran of the FBI and senior analyst with the ACLU, these investigations don't fit the national security description. "In intelligence notes on Chinese and Russian organized crime, those are not national security issues," German told us. "Those are all clearly criminal investigations."
German has brought attention to another troubling use of racial mapping — documents revealing that the FBI's Atlanta bureau tracks Georgia's African American population.
The stated reason is a threat of black separatist groups; the documents name the New Black Panther Party and the Black Hebrew Israelites as the black separatist groups that pose a threat.
German wrote about this problematic practice in a May 29 article on the website Firedoglake.
"The problem with these documents," German told us, "is that it's not black separatists or alleged black separatists who are being tracked — it's the entire black community in Georgia."
"Those individuals and those communities are being targeted only for their race," German said. "Were it not for their race they wouldn't be part of that assessment. There is no reason to do that, accept to treat that community differently than the way it treats other communities. It's problematic from a constitutional standpoint."
The New Black Panther Party was founded in Dallas and has mostly East Coast chapters. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate United States hate groups, "The group portrays itself as a militant, modern-day expression of the black power movement (it frequently engages in armed protests of alleged police brutality and the like), but principals of the original Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 1970s— a militant, but non-racist, left-wing organization — have rejected the new Panthers as a 'black racist hate group' and contested their hijacking of the Panther name and symbol." The Black Hebrew Israelites is another fringe group, an apocalyptic group whose ideology holds that black Americans are God's chosen people.
Both groups have written and spoken record of racist and violent rhetoric, but record of violent or criminal acts are hard to find.
"I'd say they're a fairly small part of the radical right, and generally quite small. As far as we know, there is virtually no connection between these groups and criminal activity," Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC, told the Guardian.
According to Potok, the center's list of hate groups in operation in 2011 includes four organizations classified as black separatist, which, between them, have 140 chapters. Those chapters are counted as 140 of the list's 1,018 groups.
"Most of the rest of the list are white supremacist groups," Potok notes. "There are some exceptions — anti-gay groups and anti-Muslim groups." After a quick count, Potok found 688 groups to be "straight-up white supremacist."
The majority of these hate groups may be white supremacist — but the FBI is not involved in tracking white populations.
Last October, the FBI's press office responded to the ACLU's concerns with racial mapping. "These efforts are intended to address specific threats, not particular communities," the agency's statement reads.