May 28th, 2008 16:43 EST
Congress to Probe Surveillance of Calif. Muslims?
A coalition of Muslim and civil liberties organizations today called on Congress to conduct a full and impartial investigation of reports that surveillance records on Muslim communities and mosques in California were illegally obtained and disseminated by a group operating out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
News reports have indicated that the group of military reservists and law enforcement officers at Camp Pendleton stole the data from a federal surveillance program that monitored mosques in Southern California. The group reportedly took advantage of faults in the security system at the Strategic Technical Operations Center at Camp Pendleton and passed secret files to local law enforcement agencies. Some of this information was also allegedly passed on to defense contractors in exchange for favors.
SEE: Records Detail Security Failure in Base File Theft (San Diego Union-Tribune)
The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-California), the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California sent a letter to the Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Wednesday expressing concerns over the possible civil rights violations posed by the alleged monitoring of U.S. citizens on the basis of religious affiliation.
The letter stated in part
"Holding the entire American Muslim community suspect not only threatens civil liberties and raises the specter of unconstitutional religious profiling, but undermines public safety by eroding that community's trust in law enforcement. The San Diego breach revealed not only flawed security, but unchecked surveillance and monitoring programs that must be subjected to Congressional oversight."
SEE: Joint ACLU, CAIR and Shura Council Letter to Congress
"Based on news reports, it appears that a group working out of the Camp Pendleton Marine base either conducted or had access to surveillance information about Muslim communities in Southern California," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR Greater Los Angeles.
Ayloush added: "Who approved this surveillance and who carried it out? Who provided the oversight or legal justification for spying on law-abiding U.S. citizens and institutions? Such alleged abuses not only jeopardize innocent civilians' First Amendment rights, but also harm national security."
Last year, Los Angeles Police Department alarmed Muslim and civil rights groups when it announced plans to 'map' Muslims.
SEE: LAPD plan draws ire from Muslims
Edgar Hopida, public relations director of CAIR San Diego held similar concerns, "These types of actions only encourage further unwarranted suspicion of the American Muslim community."
Shakeel Syed, the executive director of Shura Council said: "This confirms our fears that mosques and Muslim community organizations in Southern California have been targeted for government surveillance based solely on their ethnicity and religion."
"This incident shows the danger posed by government programs that amass large amounts of data on private individuals' lawful activity, and do so without adequate safeguards to protect that sensitive information," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. "The fact that these programs are shrouded in secrecy not only allows the government to act with impunity, but also prevents the innocent citizens from knowing whether their personal information has been shared, stolen or sold."
More than a year ago, several organizations, including CAIR-California and the Shura Council, filed a public records request for documents relating to FBI surveillance of their lawful activities.
After the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit last year seeking responses to the requests, the government produced more than 100 pages of documents for some of the plaintiffs. The suit remains in litigation.
CONTACT: Munira Syeda, CAIR-LA Communications Coordinator, Tel: (714) 776-1847 or (714) 851-4851, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Edgar Hopida, CAIR San Diego Public Relations Director, Tel: (619) 913-0719 or (858) 278-4547, E-mail: email@example.com; Celeste Durant, Communications Director, ACLU of Southern California, Tel: (213) 977- 5252, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Rebecca Rauber, Communications Director, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties Tel: (619) 232-2121 ext. 26, E-mail email@example.com