FBI Given Green Light To Monitor Websites, Libraries, Churches

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 13:16:52 +0100

New Justice Department guidelines to be unveiled today will give FBI
agents latitude to monitor Internet sites, libraries and religious
institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential
criminal activity, officials said yesterday. 


The changes, part of the Justice Department's effort to mount a
proactive war on terror, will mark a significant change for the FBI.
While agents have been permitted in the past to conduct such
surveillance if they had specific information, they have been loath to
do so because of confusion about what was actually permitted, law
enforcement officials said. 


Justice Department and FBI officials said the guidelines will remove
serious barriers to the prevention of terrorism. "The concern is when
we're confronted with people like [Zacarias] Moussaoui, or even some of
the hijackers, who are known to spend substantial periods of time in
mosques or other similar situations, it is very difficult to find out
what they're up to," said one senior law enforcement official. 


Terrorist organizations operating in this country have sometimes used
mosques as recruiting grounds and gathering places. Sheik Omar Abdel
Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric now imprisoned for his role in the
1993 attack on the World Trade Center, built a radical following with
links to al Qaeda while preaching at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey
City, for example. 


But as word of the new guidelines circulated yesterday, some civil
liberties groups expressed fears of a Big Brother government monitoring
its citizens. "The FBI is now telling the American people, 'You no
longer have to do anything unlawful in order to get that knock on the
door,' " said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties
Union's Washington office. "You can be doing a prefectly legal activity
like worshiping or talking in a chat room, they can spy on you anyway." 


The new guidelines state simply that FBI agents may enter public places
and forums, including publicly accessible Internet sites, to observe,
develop leads and investigate. The guidelines do not specifically
mention religious institutions, but a senior Justice Department official
said last night that the impact of the changes will be dramatic in
allowing the FBI to open a window on extremist activity in mosques.
"These are open places," he said. Now, "just because they are FBI
agents, they don't have to turn a blind eye to activities visible to
other people." 


Under guidelines that have been in place for several decades, the FBI
has not been permitted to send investigators into religious settings
unless the agents can establish they are following a lead, or conducting
an investigation or preliminary inquiry. As a practical matter, the
Justice Department official said, "agents mistakenly think they have to
stop at the church door." 


In a written description of the guideline changes made available
yesterday, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft stated that the department
needs to be able to "proactively draw on available sources of
information to identify terrorist threats and activities." In the past,
he said, the FBI has been a reactive body, and the guidelines "generally
barred the FBI from taking the initiative unless leads as to possible
criminal activity or even more substantial evidence of crimes happened
to come to the FBI from external sources." 


The new rules will allow agents to surf the Internet for Web sites that
might give hints to terrorist activity, according to the description.
The new guidelines will allow investigators to seek out and "identify
sites and forums in which bomb-making instructions, preparations for
cyberterrorism, child pornography, and stolen credit card information
are openly traded and disseminated." 


Under the existing policy, agents could pursue online searches only when
they could characterize them as checking leads or otherwise furthering
an ongoing investigation. "Pure surfing or searching for the purpose of
initially developing leads was not allowed, even in relation to publicly
available information that anyone else is free to access and observe,"
according to the new policy statement. 


Agents will also be permitted to do topical research not directly
related to a specific crime under the new guidelines, such as research
on a biological agent. The ACLU's Murphy said, however, that the new
guidelines could open the door to the same kind of problems evident in
the FBI's aggressive surveillance and harassment of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. 


Several other aspects of the new guidelines, disclosed earlier this
week, will move some decision-making authority from FBI headquarters to
field offices around the country. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III
acknowledged yesterday that changes must be made to counter bureaucratic
inertia at headquarters that led to missed clues in the Sept. 11


Under the new guidelines, field office directors will be allowed to
launch terrorism investigations and undercover probes without clearance
from headquarters. The guidelines are an outgrowth of privacy laws that
prohibit the government from collecting information except for law
enforcement purposes. In the past, the government developed information
on specific cases but now needs broader intelligence to prevent
terrorist acts. 


Source: Washington Post 

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