The FBI spies on mosques

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Logo from the ACLU's FBI project

The FBI has been sending agents to mosques in California and filing intelligence reports without any suspicion of criminal activity, records obtained by the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the Bay Guardian show.

The records, obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, show agents engaged in what the FBI calls its "mosque outreach" program gathering intelligence on the content of sermons, mosque finances and such mundane things as the sale of date fruit.

The agents apparently weren't working undercover -- in fact, in one instance, an FBI agent met with worshippers after a service and "handed out FBI pens."

But the information collected -- none of which has anything to do with any criminal activity or threat of criminal activity -- was filed as "positive intelligence," meaning the data would be maintained in the FBI's intel files. Some of it was marked "secret" and distributed outside the agency.

Among other things, the records show that federal agents collected the names of congregants, the names of religious leaders, and the level of financial support individuals were giving to various mosques.

In one instance, FBI agents used a worshipper's cell phone to run electronic checks on him.

As the ACLU notes:

Categorizing information about religious beliefs, practices, and otherwise innocent activities as “positive intelligence” could have very serious negative consequences for Muslim groups and their congregants. FBI agents accessing this information in intelligence files would assume it was relevant to the FBI’s investigative and intelligence mission, casting a cloud of suspicion over the group or individual mentioned and potentially leading to more intensive scrutiny or investigation. The dissemination of this “positive intelligence” outside the FBI would only increase the likelihood that other law enforcement or intelligence agencies would investigate innocent groups or individuals based solely on their religion.

You can download the ACLU report and the records here (pdf), and an earlier report on "mosque outreach" here. I'll be updating this information as I go through the individual files.

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