ACLU-MI Joins Effort to Expose FBI Spying on Political and Religious Groups

December 02, 2004

DETROIT – Suspecting that law enforcement is spying on political and faith-based groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today filed Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI and Michigan State Police to uncover who is being investigated and why. The requests are being made on behalf of Michigan peace and student activist groups, civil rights organizations, a Muslim charity and individuals who speak out against U.S. policies.

“Criticizing the government is not a crime,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Law enforcement’s time and resources should be spent on keeping us safe, not on spying on people based on their religious or political beliefs.”

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seek information about the FBI’s use of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) and local police to engage in political surveillance. The FOIAs seek two kinds of information:  1) the actual FBI and state police files of groups and individuals targeted for speaking out or practicing their faith; 2) information about how the practices and funding structure of the task forces are encouraging rampant and unwarranted spying.

JTTFs are partnerships between the FBI and local police, in which local officers are “deputized” as federal agents and work in coordination with the FBI to identify and monitor individuals and groups. While their purpose is to investigate terrorism, they have targeted peaceful political and religious groups with no connection to terrorism.

The ACLU of Michigan’s requests are part of a national ACLU campaign to uncover the extent of political surveillance in this country after 9/11.  The clients across the country comprise a Who’s Who of national and local advocates for well-known causes, including the environment, animal rights, labor, religion, Native American rights, fair trade, grassroots politics, peace, social justice, nuclear disarmament, human rights and civil liberties. 

There is reason to believe that surveillance of law-abiding groups is occurring in Michigan.  First, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in 2002 that law enforcement would be permitted to spy on political and religious groups even though there was no suspicion that they were violating the law.  Second, there are documented examples of JTTFs in other parts of the country investigating environmental activists, anti-war protesters, and others who are clearly not terrorists nor involved in terrorist activities, including:

  • • tracking down parents of student peace activists
  • • downloading anti-war action alerts from Catholic Peace Ministries
  • • infiltrating student groups
  • • sending undercover agents to National Lawyers Guild meetings
  • • aggressively questioning Muslims and Arabs on the basis of religion or national origin rather than suspicion of wrongdoing

Third, a classified FBI intelligence memorandum disclosed publicly last November revealed that the FBI has actually directed police to target and monitor lawful political demonstrations under the rubric of fighting terrorism. 
 
“We know the FBI is spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa,” said Moss.  “We need to know if they’re doing the same thing in Michigan.”

The ACLU of Michigan filed its FOIA request today on behalf of itself and the following organizations and individuals:

  • •Peace Action of Michigan
  • Life for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the United States
  • Direct Action, a Lansing-based organization opposed to the USA PATRIOT Act and the war in Afganistan and Iraq
  • •Detroit Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild
  • •Ann Arbor Area Committee for Peace
  • •Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-Palestinian group at the University of Michigan
  • •Students for Economic Justice, a Michigan State University student group opposed to the sweatshop industry
  • •Homam Albaroudi, a Board member of the Muslim Community Association in Ann Arbor who is active in Muslim charities
  • •Kary Moss, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan

In addition to the requests filed in Michigan, the national ACLU and affiliates in 10 states and the District of Columbia, including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Oregon, also filed.  A full list of all clients can be found at http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=17126&c=207

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