The FBI's modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous -- and really, really stupid
"These domain management efforts seek to use existing, available government data to locate and better understand the communities that are potential victims of the threats. There must be an understanding of the communities we protect in order to focus our limited human and financial resources in the areas where those resources are most needed."
With that defense, resources continue to pour into racial mapping efforts.
Black separatist organizations are not the only groups to be targeted for political beliefs. Groups such as "anarchist extremists" and "animal rights/environmental extremists" are also, according to the FBI, groups to watch out for.
A training presentation for the Bay Area's Joint Terrorism Task Force includes a list of those groups: "animal rights/eco terrorism, anarchists, white separatists, black separatists, militia/sovereign citizens, and 'lone offender'."
How do you spot a potential "animal rights extremist"? According to the documents, "ideology and concepts" found among this group includes a "complete vegan lifestyle," and activities include the promotion of "anti-capitalist literature." In other words, your roommate is probably a terrorist.
SPYING ON MUSLIMS
Racial mapping is not the only FBI practice that targets people just for being members of groups "associated with crimes." The FBI routinely gathers information on Muslims through deceptive "community outreach" programs.
Memoranda we've obtained reveal that FBI agents, operating under the guise of community outreach, attended various events hosted by local Muslim organizations in order to gather intelligence between 2007 and 2009.
When agents attended Ramadan Iftar dinners in San Francisco, they wrote down participants' contact information and documented their conversations and opinions. At an alleged outreach event at CSU Chico, they recorded a conversation with a student about the Saudi Student Association's activities and even took the student's picture. That information was sent to the FBI in Washington, DC, the ACLU reported.
Writing down information on individuals' First Amendment activities—in this case without any evidence that they were notified or asked—violates the federal Privacy Act, the ACLU says. Using access to community events to gather personal information undermines the FBI's stated effort to form relationships with Muslim leaders and community members.
And covert surveillance can also have an immediate and hazardous impact on the unwitting subjects.
"It's becoming more of a public discourse that these FBI background checks are affecting immigration status, the ability to send money back home, and generally creating an environment of fear," said Miriam Zouvounis, membership coordinator with San Francisco's Arab Resource and Organizing Center.
The organization has helped clients who have been detained for months because their names were mistakenly placed on a no-fly list, and others whose immigration processes have taken up to ten years because they were erroneously perceived as threatening, Zouvounis said.
"The process of information collecting on covert and overt levels is accelerating, and definitely a present reality in San Francisco. People don't want to be civically engaged if that material's being used against them," she said.
"Extremism online is the most serious international terrorist threat in the world." Or so says FBI training materials in a presentation entitled "Extremism online," meant for those training to be online covert employees. The documents teach OCEs to scan through comment threads and enter chat rooms, searching for people whose speech may be "operational."
This surveillance has led to investigations.