Secret Papers Describe Size of Terror Lists Kept by U.S.

August 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — About 20,800 United States citizens and permanent residents are included in a federal government database of people suspected of having links to terrorism, of whom about 5,000 have been placed on one or more watch lists, newly disclosed documents show.

The documents are briefing materials about accomplishments in 2013 by the Directorate of Terrorist Identities, a component of the National Counterterrorism Center, an interagency clearinghouse of information about people known to be or suspected of being terrorists.

The documents were classified Secret and were published Tuesday by The Intercept, an online magazine. The disclosure provided new details about the numbers of people within the broad database and on terrorist watch lists derived from it — a system that has grown rapidly over the last four years, according to government officials.

Over all, the number of people listed in the center’s database of terrorism suspects surpassed one million in June 2013, the documents said. Of those, approximately 680,000 were on the watch lists, which can keep people off planes or from entering the country and subject them to extra scrutiny at airports, traffic stops or border crossings.

Among other things, the documents showed that the main terrorism suspects database contains records on 8,211 people who are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based affiliate of Al Qaeda that intelligence officials have said is the most dangerous component of the group at present.

A map associated with the files ranked the top five cities where Americans who have been deemed “known or suspected terrorists” are concentrated. Four are large cities: New York, Houston, San Diego and Chicago. But the second-highest was Dearborn, Mich., a city of fewer than 100,000 people that has a large Arab and Muslim population.

Much of the document relates to efforts to fill in missing data. After the April 2013 attack at the Boston Marathon, the National Counterterrorism Center set out to fill gaps involving biometric markers like fingerprints of the Americans on various watch lists, adding facial images for 370 people and fingerprints for 163. It obtained the information from driver’s license images and from the Department of Homeland Security, it said.

The center also used “clandestinely collected travel data” provided by the C.I.A. to fill in gaps about international travel of people in the database, it said.

Arab American group urges boycott of White House Iftar dinner

July 14, 2014

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.

Like George W. Bush before him, Obama has hosted an Iftar dinner — the meal after sunset that breaks the day of fasting — each year he’s been in office. Other federal agencies, including the State Department, also hold iftar dinners to commemorate the holiday.

The ADC, the nation’s largest Arab American group, issued a statement citing both the administration’s support for Israel’s bombing campaign in response to airstrikes by the militant group Hamas as reasons not to participate in the administration’s celebrations.

Obama remains overwhelmingly popular with Muslims, although he has recently come under fire since Glenn Greewald and Murtza Hussain reported former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had documents indicating the NSA had conducted surveillance on five American Muslim leaders.

The custom of celebrating Ramadan in the White House dates back at least to 1996, when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner during Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted in an e-mail Monday that the tradition may go back two centuries, according to accounts from the nation’s early days.

“Some consider President Thomas Jefferson to have hosted the first Iftar by a U.S. president, as he hosted a sunset dinner with an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago,” Meehan wrote. “The invited guests tonight include elected officials, members of the diplomatic corps, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.”

U.S. Spied on 5 American Muslims, a Report Says

July 10, 2014

WASHINGTON — A new report based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden has identified five American Muslims, including the leader of a civil rights group, as having been subjected to surveillance by the federal government.

The disclosure of what were described as specific domestic surveillance targets by The Intercept online magazine was a rare glimpse into some of the most closely held secrets of counterespionage and terrorism investigators. The article raised questions about the basis for the domestic spying, even as it was condemned by the government as irresponsible and damaging to national security.

The report was based on what The Intercept described as a spreadsheet of 7,485 email addresses said to have been monitored from 2002 to 2008, and one of its writers was Glenn Greenwald, a primary recipient of the trove of documents leaked by Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.

The documents did not say what the suspicions or the evidence were against the men that prompted the apparent surveillance.

In interviews on Wednesday, several of the men denied wrongdoing, and Mr. Ghafoor said he believed his Muslim faith was a factor in his being monitored. “I try not to play the race card,” he said. “But there’s really no other explanation.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues about 1,800 orders annually for domestic surveillance. To obtain a court order to wiretap an American, the government must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target is engaged in a crime on behalf of a foreign power; non-Americans need only be suspected of being foreign agents.

None of the five have been charged with a crime in connection with the apparent monitoring.

The government refused to confirm whether or why any of the five had been monitored. Several dozen rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday expressing concerns about the potential for “discriminatory and abusive surveillance,” but also acknowledged that “we do not know all of the facts,” and asked for “the information necessary to meaningfully assess” the report.

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain

July 9, 2014

The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.

The FBI—which is listed as the “responsible agency” for surveillance on the five men—has a controversial record when it comes to the ethnic profiling of Muslim-Americans. According to FBI training materials uncovered byWired in 2011, the bureau taught agents to treat “mainstream” Muslims as supporters of terrorism, to view charitable donations by Muslims as “a funding mechanism for combat,” and to view Islam itself as a “Death Star” that must be destroyed if terrorism is to be contained.

Other former and current federal officials say such beliefs are not representative of the FBI or Justice Department. But blatant prejudice against Muslim-Americans is also documented in the Snowden archive.

In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead.”

[CLICK TOREAD MORE]

Lawsuit Contends Surveillance Database Is Too Lax on Reporting Criteria

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Intent on not overlooking clues about any terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Less visibly, it built a national database to better harness reports of suspicious activity in the hunt for terrorists.

On Thursday, five California men opened a legal front over the recurring tensions between collective security measures and individual rights by filing a lawsuit that challenges the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. They contend that it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.

The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet.

Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior, although only two, according to previously disclosed government documents, have been able to prove it. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard’s or a police officer’s report to be uploaded into the national database.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with lawyers for the law firm Bingham McCutchen.

The lawsuit also contends that the system can lend itself to racial profiling. It points to reports involving plaintiffs like Khaled Ibrahim, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who lives in San Jose, Calif. The suit said that he worked as a purchasing agent for a computer consulting and service company and that “on several occasions” in 2011 tried to buy a large number of computers for the firm at a Best Buy store, which told him it did not sell computers in bulk.

French state calls for a mobilization to combat the rise of Jihad

July 3, 2014

In January 2014 the French Secret Service identified more than seven hundred individuals believed to be involved in the “Franco-Syrian conflict.” In recent months, the French government, along with the European Union, has promised to take steps to curb the spread of jihad in European countries. The French state promises to “reinforce the cooperation between state services” in order to implement an intelligence network that would support the Secret Service. This information sharing would include cooperation between local housing authorities, job centers, and even middle and high schools, with the former being able to identify nascent threats. The goal is to “tighten the net” in order to reduce the number of Frenchmen leaving to fight in Syria.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke of the “hundreds and hundreds of Europeans and Frenchmen who are currently fighting in Syria. In France there are over eight hundred individuals who are involved in the conflict: because they are fighting, because they have died (more than thirty), because they have recently returned, because they want to go. We have never been confronted with such a challenge: it’s without a doubt the most pressing threat.”

Valls stated that the anti-terrorism legislation, passed at the end of 2012, would be modified at the beginning of July. Any changes to the law would be aimed at reinforcing preventative measures and the ability to monitor families whose members are potential threats. He stressed the need for legislative changes so that judges can act to further curb terrorism.

After six presumed Frenchmen were successfully stopped from returning to Syria at the beginning of June, Bernard Cazeneuve spoke of the “government’s complete determination to fight with all its strength against terrorism and the teaching of radical violence to young people.”

NYPD surveillance of political activism questioned

May 27, 2014

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

The complaint being filed on Tuesday follows the release of documents by The Associated Press this spring revealing that undercover police officers had attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists.

“We’re cautiously hopeful that the inspector general will pursue his mandate in favor of civil liberties,” said Robert Jereski, a coordinator of a group called Friends of Brad Will.

In a statement, the Department of Investigation confirmed the paperwork was received. It said Eure will review it and “determine appropriate investigative action once the office is staffed.”

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the police department would cooperate with any inquiry.

The complaint was filed by a coalition that includes environmental, human rights, housing rights and animal rights activists. It accuses NYPD of targeting “First Amendment protected activities like political advocacy” that provide “vital nourishment to our democratic system of government and prevents its corruption and atrophy.”

In 2012, the AP disclosed documents detailing how an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans in 2008 to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups. The officer reported overhearing participants discuss how the Friends of Brad Will was planning demonstrations in Mexico and across the United States to demand the removal of the governor of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Friends of Brad Will — formed after the murder of Will in 2006 while he was working as a journalist in Mexico — has a stated mission of increasing “public awareness about the human rights abuses linked to the ‘war on drugs.’” Since the disclosure about the NYPD’s surveillance, it and other groups have seen a decline in donations and participation, Jereski said.

“It’s chilled the landscape to have the lawless behavior of the NYPD held over us,” he said.

Muslims and the N.Y.P.D.

May 25, 2014

New York City’s police commissioner, William Bratton, made the right decision last month when he said he would disband a unit used by his predecessor, Raymond Kelly, to spy on law-abiding Muslims as they worshiped or patronized businesses in their communities. Beyond proving useless for intelligence purposes, the Demographics Unit undermined the fight against terrorism by alienating Muslims who were understandably angry about being singled out, not for illegal conduct but because of their religious affiliation.

This problem has yet to be fully resolved. As The Times’s Joseph Goldstein reported, the department is still running a program that singles out Muslims in a problematic way, this time to recruit them as informants. The department says the program, run by a squad of detectives euphemistically known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has led to breaks in important cases. But the department has a long history of trampling on people’s rights during investigations of political activity, while making inflated claims about the value of its intelligence operations.

The program has not yet been challenged in court. But the Federal District Court in Manhattan criticized a similar set of practices more than a decade ago, in a case brought on behalf of protesters who had been swept up in an antiwar demonstration in 2003 in New York City. As in the questioning of Muslims, the police in that case wandered far afield — asking those arrested about their political affiliations, their feelings about the president, their opinions about the war in Iraq. The police also held people in custody for extended periods, so that they could be made available to specific detectives who were not there at the time.

The judge ridiculed the city for describing this obviously coercive arrangement as an innocuous “debriefing,” saying protesters had been subjected to “custodial interrogation” — which meant that steps needed to be taken to protect their rights. The Police Department is right to develop informants that would help them foil terrorist plots. But it would be counterproductive to do so in ways that violate the Constitution or make more people fear the police.

NYPD’s new spying outrage: Innocent Muslims treated worse than guilty bankers

When “Arabic-sounding” names are automatically suspicious — but financial crimes are ignored — here’s the result

Stop your car to help a woman who appears to be lost — and get pressured, while in police custody, to become an informant. That’s what happened to one of the men profiled in a recent New York Times report on yet more aggressive spying on Muslims by the NYPD.

Egyptian-born Moro Said pulled over one night because, he says, a woman looked like she needed directions. She turned out to be an undercover officer, and hauled him in on a prostitution-related charge. Then cops pressured him to start informing them on what he sees and hears in his mosque or in cafes.

As the Times describes it, the NYPD adapted a process used with suspects who might know about related crime, like drug dealers or low-level mafia members, to the Muslim community in general. When Muslims — or people with “Arabic-sounding names” — were arrested, they would be interviewed and recruited to inform generally on mosques or cafes or other areas frequented by Muslims.

The program remains active under new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton’s lead; the Department has conducted 220 such interviews so far this year.

Around the globe, it seems, the government continues to use the tools of law enforcement to find more spies to report on innocent Muslims.

It’s not just coercion that law enforcement uses to find people to inform on their community: the government has twice told the FISA Court that it may use the phone dragnet program — in which it conducts contact chaining on a database of the phone record of Americans’ phone records — to identify potential informants.

Imagine how such generalized spying would be regarded against potentially riskier set of targets, like the finance criminals who wrecked the economy in 2008 and have continued to engaged in damaging fraud. Imagine if every banker who visited a sex worker got hauled in and was offered leniency if he informed on his co-workers, bosses, and clients? (Key to the coercion, of course, is that many Muslims don’t have the resources of bankers to fight low-level criminal accusations.)

Of course, bankers need not worry. A recent DOJ Inspector General report revealed that when DOJ attempted to roll out undercover teams (not civilian informants, but FBI undercover officers) to target mortgage fraud, FBI Agents either weren’t informed such a plan existed or, if they were, needed “specific direction or training on how to commence a mortgage fraud” undercover operation.

The FBI, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to treat suspected bank criminals like it and many other law enforcement agencies treat innocent Muslims.

Therein lies the problem. It has gotten too easy, since 9/11, to treat the Muslim community as a whole as suspect. It has become too easy to use the tools rolled out after 9/11 to combat real threats (and borrowed, before that, from the drug war) to instead criminalize a faith community. It would be unthinkable — and unworkable — for more privileged communities. And yet it continues.

NYC defends use of Muslim police informants

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department disbanded a unit that tracked the everyday lives of Muslims, but it has taken a tough stance in a heated legal battle over its continuing use of Muslim informants in terror threat investigations.

Muslim groups filed a civil rights lawsuit last year asking a federal judge to declare the surveillance unconstitutional and halt it.

City lawyers struck back by suggesting the plaintiffs brought the attention on themselves with “rhetoric or their known, suspected or rumored associations with people or organizations of ill repute.” The city then demanded any communications by the plaintiffs — including two Brooklyn mosques, an imam and a Muslim charity — that mention terrorism, jihad or the war in Afghanistan as well as financial records from the mosques and the charity, including names of donors.

The plaintiffs say the city is unjustly seeking private information. Disclosure of records from the mosque and the charity “would further alienate and chill congregants, members, donors and donees … and thereby infringe on plaintiffs’ right to free exercise, free speech and associational privacy,” their lawyers wrote in court papers in late March.

The New York Times, citing internal NYPD documents, reported this week that the police department’s Intelligence Division is continuing to debrief Muslims arrested for petty offenses to see what they know about other crimes and if some could be persuaded to volunteer as informants.

Police Commissioner William Bratton defended the debriefings Tuesday on a visit to Israel, telling the Jerusalem Post that they are “an essential element of policing” that doesn’t single out Muslims. City lawyers also say the NYPD puts people under surveillance for legitimate investigative reasons, not because of their ethnicity or religion.

But Muslim advocates say the program sends the wrong message.