Surveillance, Apologize (Sometimes), and Repeat

On February 19, 2009, the North Central Texas Fusion Center issued a bulletin to over a hundred law enforcement agencies that urged officers to report activities of pro-Islam groups.  As the bulletin explained, “Middle Eastern Terrorist groups and their supporting organizations have been successful in gaining support for Islamic goals in the United States and providing an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish.”  Groups warranting surveillance and reporting included the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which “presents itself as a Muslim Civil liberties group yet it was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department’s case in Dallas against the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-linked Islamic charity.”  So, too, “pushing an aggressive, pro-Islam agenda that’s been increasingly successful in recent years takes on a new light.”  According to the bulletin, while certain activities in isolation may seem innocuous, they may in fact promote Islamic radicalization.”  The bulletin provided the following examples: “Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refuse to carry passengers who have alcohol in their possession; The Indianapolis airport in 2007 installed foot baths to accommodate Muslim prayer; Public schools schedule prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim students; Pork is banned in the workplace ; etc..”  Islamic radicalization “marketing schemes have included hip hop fashion boutiques, hip hop bands, use of online social networks, use of video sharing networks, chat forums and blogs.”  (See here for links to the bulletin).

The bulletin was leaked online, and apologies ensued.  At a sub-committee hearing of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee entitled “The Future of Fusion Centers: Potential Promise and Dangers,” John Bateman of the Texas Department of Public Safety and Robert Riegle from the US Department of Homeland Security denounced the bulletin.  David Gersten of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security described it as a “demonstration of what not to do.”  Mr. Riegle testified:

We took immediate and aggressive response to the bulletin… we immediately sent a team of civil liberties and civil rights experts down to the state of Texas to work directly with the center.  This included advocates from the Muslim-American community in the United States of America. We also then immediately altered the directors’ meeting at the national conference to emphasize the importance of this and went over this particular oversight error as aggressively as we possibly could.”

Apologies for surveillance of First Amendment activities are so yesterday–at least in New York.  The New York Times recently covered the New York Police Department’s monitoring of websites of Muslim student groups at more than a dozen universities.  Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the efforts as part of the department’s effort to guard against the threat of terrorism.  As the mayor said in an appearance at the Brooklyn Public Library, “The Police Department goes where there are allegations, and they look to see whether those allegations are true.  That’s what you would expect them to do. That’s what you would want them to do.”  Yale University’s president, Richard C. Levin, has this to say in an e-mail to students, faculty, and staff: “I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinion is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”  These activities resemble the monitoring of protected groups during the COINTELPRO era, which the Church Committee denounced and which Congress sought to prevent in 28 C.F.R. part 23.  If the monitoring spearheaded by the NYPD isn’t included in records that make their way into federal databases, fair information practices required by federal law would not apply.  And New York’s laws may not preclude records of expressive activities, hence the lack of apology.

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1 Response

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Is there some category-mixing going on here? Regarding these four activities, ““Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refuse to carry passengers who have alcohol in their possession; The Indianapolis airport in 2007 installed foot baths to accommodate Muslim prayer; Public schools schedule prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim students; Pork is banned in the workplace ; etc.,” are you suggesting that all are protected by the First Amendment? Alternatively, are any of these required by the First Amendment (and if so, why is surveillance of them a problem)?