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Homeland Security Violated Rules To Spy On Nation Of Islam
By Salim Muwakkil, December 28, 2009
The Department of Homeland Security is acting improperly and foolishly by trying to link black activism to Islamic radicalism.
Homeland Security improperly gathered intelligence on the Nation of Islam for eight months in 2007 and disseminated the resulting report too widely, according to government documents released Dec. 16.
The department compiled this “intelligence note” when Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the group, was in poor health and appeared to be yielding power. But the effort violated domestic spying rules, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.
Homeland Security’s office of intelligence and analysis wrote up the note, which was entitled “Nation of Islam: Uncertain Leadership Succession Poses Risks.” The office then e-mailed it to 482 recipients — including intelligence officials, federal departments, at least one state government entity and one educational institution.
But within hours, the department recalled the note, and recipients of the e-mail were instructed to delete their copies.
The official review concluded the analysis “inadvertently” violated guidelines that protect civil liberties.
“Despite its highly volatile and extreme rhetoric,” said Homeland Security Undersecretary Charles Allen in describing the Nation of Islam, “the group has neither advocated violence nor engaged in violence.”
The retraction is laudable but suspect. The U.S. government has long been concerned about black radicalism at home. After all, the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program, which ran from 1956 to 1971, was designed to “neutralize” black nationalist leadership. It focused heavily on the Nation of Islam and similar groups.
Today, the federal government is disproportionately focusing on groups that combine some form of black activism with Islamic leanings. Three of the FBI’s major pre-emptive busts of so-called home-grown terrorists groups have all involved impoverished black men with some amorphous connections to Islam.
These involved the “Liberty 7” case, concerning a plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower; the plot to blow up fuel tanks under Kennedy International Airport; and last May’s plot to attack a synagogue and shoot down a plane. In all of these cases, the FBI used paid informants, who provided cash, material and ideas.
And last October, a Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was shot and killed for vague reasons by FBI agents at a warehouse in nearby Dearborn. Abdullah was alleged to be the leader of a “radical fundamentalist Sunni group,” but the feds and police were executing a criminal complaint — not a terrorism charge — in the raid that killed him.
Then there’s this excerpt from the June 26, 2006, episode of Anderson Cooper’s “360” program. Commenting on the “Liberty 7” arrests, CNN’s law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks said, “On June 13, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, put out a call, an informational bulletin, ‘black separatism a volatile movement of Node – Node of Domestic radicalization.’”
Brooks told Cooper, “Some of these groups that they mentioned in this particular report, Nation of Islam, new Black Panther party, based in Detroit, and the Five Percenters, those are the ones that law enforcement right now are basically concerned with.”
Islamic leaders, particularly those with predominantly black followers, remain decidedly on edge about the federal government’s intentions.
With its troubling attitude toward indigenous Islam, the U.S. government is squandering an opportunity to showcase U.S. Muslims as proof that Islamic piety is compatible with American pluralism.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of the Chicago-based In These Times magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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