ACLU Decries Planned Election Dragnet in Muslim and Arab Communities

October 1, 2004 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it will be monitoring a new plan by the FBI to, among other things, use “aggressive – even obvious – surveillance” techniques on individuals who are not even suspected of having committed a crime, in advance of the November 2 general election.

“The FBI plans to deliberately tail people based on their religion or ethnic origin during a month that is both religiously and politically crucial,” said Dalia Hashad, the ACLU’s Arab, Muslim and South Asian Advocate. “Instead of bolstering security, the FBI’s ‘October Plan’ is going to stop Muslims and Arabs from attending mosques during the month of Ramadan, and participating in the upcoming election.”

An internal e-mail notice to FBI agents, distributed last week by the bureau’s “’04 Threat Task Force,” described an intensified law enforcement effort to “to foster the impression that law enforcement is focused on individuals who may be a threat.”

According to CBS News, the plan calls for the aggressive and open surveillance of persons suspected of being terrorist sympathizers, but who are not suspected of any crime. CBS also reported that mosques will be revisited and worshippers questioned. Already, ACLU affiliates are fielding calls from Muslims panicked by aggressive FBI action.

Over the past three years, Middle Eastern and South Asian neighborhoods and communities have borne the brunt of the federal government’s response to 9/11. Directly after the attacks, more than a thousand, and possibly upwards of 2,000 men were rounded up secretly by the Justice Department only to be later found to have no connection to the attacks.

The “October Plan” is the fifth incidence of an explicit FBI dragnet, targeted at American Muslims and Arabs. Previously, the FBI launched four separate rounds of questioning, which routinely involved interrogating interviewees with questions about their religious practices and political beliefs. In many of the interviews, the FBI actually collected information about interviewee’s associational activity, including copying the data from cell phone contact lists.

In monitoring the program, the ACLU is working closely with Amnesty International, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Arab-American Institute, Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“This program is not good law enforcement,” Hashad said. “If finding a terrorist is like looking for a needle in a haystack, you don’t make the job easier by adding more hay to the pile.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release