The Feds are watching -- badly

The FBI's modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous -- and really, really stupid

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Muslims, the Internet -- what isn't the government spying on?

yael@sfbg.com

So, you're a law enforcement officer in training for participation on a local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Or a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point, involved in the counterterrorism training program developed in partnership with the FBI. Or you're an FBI agent training up to deal with terrorist threats.

Get ready for FBI training in dealing with Arab and Muslim populations.

Take note that "Western cultural values" include "rational, straight line thinking" and a tendency to "identify problems and solve them through logical decision-making process" — while "Arab cultural values" are "emotional based" and "facts are colored by emotion and subjectivity."

Be advised that Arabs have "no concept of privacy" and "no concept of 'constructive criticism'" and that in Arab culture it is "acceptable to interrupt conversations to convey information or make requests."

"Westerners think, act, then feel," an FBI powerpoint briefing notes, while "Arabs feel, act, then think."

Those are some of the most dramatic examples of racial profiling and outright racist stereotyping revealed in thousands of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Bay Guardian, the ACLU of Northern California and the Asian Law Caucus.

The documents show a pattern of cultural insensitivity, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, not only tolerated by promoted as official instructions by the FBI. The records also show a broad pattern of surveillance of people who have engaged in no criminal activity and aren't even suspected of crimes, but have been targeted because of their race or religion.

Pieces of this story have come out over the past year as the ACLU has charged the FBI with racial profiling and Attorney General Eric Holder has insisted it's not happening. And some of the documents — which are not always properly dated — may be a few years old.

But none of it is ancient history: All of the material has been used by the FBI in the past few years, under the Obama administration.

This is the first complete report with the full details on a pattern of behavior that is, at the very least, disturbing — and in some parts, reminiscent of the notorious (and widely discredited) COINTELPRO program that sought to undermine and disrupt political groups in the 1960s.

The information suggests that the federal government is using methods that are not only imprecise and xenophobic but utterly ineffective in protecting the American public.

"This is the worst way to pursue security," Hatem Bazian, professor of Near East Studies at UC Berkeley, told us.

CULTURAL STEREOTYPES

Dozens of documents attempt to describe "Arabs and Muslims" but other groups aren't left out of the sweeping stereotyping and blatant racism and xenophobia that the FBI has used in its training guides. One training presentation is titled "The Chinese." The materials give such tips as "informality is perceived as disrespectful." The presentation warns "expect your gift (money) to be refused" but advises to give "a simple gift with significant meaning- tangerines or oranges (with stems/leaves.)" But "never give a clock as a gift! (death!)"

And if those in the training on "The Chinese" find themselves in "interactions with the opposite sex," then "touching, too many compliments, may imply a romantic liaison is desired — be careful!"

The vast majority of the "cultural awareness" training materials imply that the authors believe that the law enforcement personnel receiving the training will never be female or interact with female members of the groups they describe. Some warn repeatedly to never ask Arabs how "females in their family" are doing in polite conversation.

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