John Guandolo: Another Counterterrorism Expert Exposed

PRA’s groundbreaking exposé of how tax dollars fund anti-Muslim trainings for police and counterterrorism personnel won the attention of news outlets and policy makers at its release this spring. We’ve been keeping the pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to stop funding flawed and bigoted training courses and in the last week our efforts have gotten a boost from CNN and National Public Radio.

NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, one of the first to report on PRA’s findings, broadcast a “Morning Edition” story this week about a counterterrorism training in Ohio that smeared a Jordanian-American professor with accusations of links to terrorism. NPR reports that the professor had worked with the Department of Homeland Security on a highly effective outreach program to the Muslim community. The only “evidence” the trainer, former FBI agent and ex- Marine John Guandolo, gave NPR for singling out the professor was a photograph of the man with members of a Muslim-American civil rights organization.

John Guandolo is a 1989 graduate of the Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps until 1996, when he joined the FBI Washington Field Office. In 2009, he left the FBI after having a sexual affair with a key witness in the corruption trial of former Congressman William Jefferson. Guandolo is currently Vice President for Strategic Planning and Execution at Strategic Engagement Group, Inc. (SEG), a consulting firm specializing in “unconstrained analysis in defense of America.” SEG offers trainings for law enforcement on the Islamic threat in America; options of varying lengths ranging from 1 day to 3 days, 1 week and 2 weeks – with each session advancing in detail.

SEG’s specialty – so-called “unconstrained analysis” – draws on a catch phrase that has cropped up in Islamophobic parlance. “Unconstrained analysis” functions as shorthand for analysis that is not constrained by respect for Muslim Americans’ voices and concerns. Nor is it constrained by the reality millions upon millions of followers of Islam do not experience or relate to the narrow-minded, bigoted interpretation of Islam promoted by so-called counter-terrorism experts who view warfare against non-Muslims as a central tenet of Islamic teachings and law. Whereas explicit calls for racial and religious profiling could result in “experts” being shunned in official circles, it’s critical that watchdogs in government recognize the codewords that could justify profiling or discrimination.

Guandolo focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood and its alleged activity in the U.S. According to Guandolo and many self-appointed counter-terrorism experts like him, the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating our fundamental institutions through front organizations: “From several major terrorism trials in the United States, and other information, we now know nearly every major Muslim organization in North America is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or a derivative group.” The alleged “front groups” include authentic Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups such as Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA).[1] According to Guandolo, the ultimate goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in theU.S. and Shariah doctrine as the supreme law of the land.[2]Guandolo cites examples such as the installation of footbaths or separate pools for men as women as evidence of the growing Islamic Threat and complains that the reason why law enforcement has thus far abstained from action is due to potential lawsuits and political correctness.[3]

A number of experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have debunked the conspiracy theory voiced by Guandolo. For instance, Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor of political science, testified before Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a violent organization in most places it operates. The Brotherhood’s rejection of violence, said Brown, is “not a mere tactical adjustment” but a “deep strategic commitment.” He noted that the Brotherhood is not on any U.S. terrorism list and argued that the U.S. should not have any official policy toward the Brotherhood any more than it has a policy toward the greens, feminists, or nationalist right.

During the same hearing, Tarek Masoud, a Harvard Universityassistant professor of public policy, also criticized videos on Rep. Myrick’s website for giving too much credit to the Muslim Brotherhood and for using this conspiracy theory to tar Muslim groups as a “Fifth Column.” Masoud noted that communism did not make much headway in the U.S. with the backing of a major superpower. The Brotherhood could not likely “infiltrate” the States even if it wanted to. Masoud emphasized that an Islamic caliphate envisioned by some Brotherhood groups is a federation of Muslim states, not a grand global conquest. He also debunked a “1991 Exploratory Memo” used by the right-wing to justify their claims of a Brotherhood campaign to take over America. This memo, authored by Mohammed Akram, is an example of a Brother writing to people back home to urge them to make the U.S. a proselytizing priority. When the author said, “these are the organizations of our friends in America,” he followed that by writing, “imagine if they all marched together.” The list of Muslim groups contained in that memo, says Prof. Masoud, is properly interpreted as one individual’s aspirations, rather than as “arms of the Muslim Brotherhood octopus.”[4]

Setting aside basic problems such as selective reading, Guandolo’s analysis also suffers largely as a result of its paranoid associative tactics. In one example, which was highly publicized by NPR, Guandolo falsely accused Omar al-Omari, a 59-year-old Jordanian college professor who is an American citizen and has lived in Ohiofor 30 years, of having ties with terrorists.[5] During a training session with the Columbus Division of Police, Guandolo showed a picture of Omari with members of CAIR as evidence of his guilt. However, several training attendees had worked with Omari before in his work in Muslim outreach for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and found the accusations ludicrous. NPR interviewed almost a dozen members of the national intelligence community including current members of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, all of which disagreed with Guandolo’s assessment.

Fortunately, since Guandolo can play guilt-by-association, so can his critics. Guandolo’s partner at SEG is Stephen Coughlin, a right-wing proponent of the thesis that Islam is inherently violent and Muslims are our enemies. Along with Coughlin, Guandolo also co-authored a report at the Center for Security Policy with other Islamophobic activists Frank Gaffney, Clare Lopez, and David Yerushalmi called “Shariah: The Threat to America” which jumbles as many Islam conspiracy theories as possible into one book.[6] The report mentions terms like “demographic jihad” and “stealth jihad” in the hope to scaring readers into fearing the Muslim disease. Moving forward, those defending the rights of Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Sikhs, and South Asians nationwide should heed the danger behind such racist rhetoric. Government officials should be especially mindful of the risk of spreading inflammatory ideologies among domestic security personnel, especially where they blatantly contradict stated U.S. policies of treating Muslim Americans as full partners and respecting Islam as a religion of peace.

Special thanks to PRA intern Ryan Katz for his work researching and drafting this post.

Sites on John Guandolo:

On the Guandolo scandal:

On the Guandolo scandal: – Great article on Guandolo by Sheila Musaji on

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part II:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part III:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV:

“The Islamists Battle Plan” featuring both Coughlin and Guandolo:


[1] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I – Understanding the Threat.”

[2] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV – Crossing the Bridge: The Implications of the Holy Land Foundation.”

[3] Musaji, Sheila. “John Guandolo, terrorism ‘expert.’”

[4] “Open Hearing on the Muslim Brotherhood,” House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, and Analysis, hearing chaired by U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (April 13, 2011). (see video at 1:29:40).

[5] Temple-Raston, Dina. “Terrorism Training Casts Pall Over Muslim Employee.”

[6] Ibid. Musaji.

FBI Using Next Generation of Big Brother to Cajole States into Targeting Immigrants?

Post-9/11 congressional mandates for better interagency information sharing have often been taken in a direction that undermines community safety and threatens personal privacy. According to new government records released to the public on July 6, 2011, the FBI is using its clout to cajole state and local law enforcement agencies into participating in the Secure Communities program (S-Comm) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under S-Comm, law enforcement agencies share sensitive data, collected for the purpose of stopping crime, with other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. ICE, which is part of Homeland Security, then uses the data for civil immigration enforcement. Thus, S-Comm turns local police into immigration agents.

facial recognition

The bureau’s new Next Generation Identification (NGI) system—an effort to achieve greater interoperability among databases at the national level, expand the biometric data in those files, and increase the size of the databases—is the tool for such information sharing. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Labor Organizing Network have sued to shed light on NGI.

S-Comm has come under fire from law enforcement and immigrant advocates alike. Law enforcement officials complain that the program undermines community policing initiatives, frightening community members away from working with police. Of the approximately 400,000 deportations under the Obama administration, 100,000 have been attributed to S-Comm. Many of the individuals removed were identified through their histories in the Criminal Alien Program, a program which puts ICE agents in county jails and detention centers to identify persons subject to removal. However, public officials charge that S-Comm is also responsible for deporting individuals over minor infractions, not dangerous crimes.

When an individual is detained or arrested, local law enforcement usually sends fingerprints and other data to the FBI, to check for matches against its databases. Increasingly, law enforcement is collecting additional personal identifying traits, such as retina images and palm prints. Under S-Comm, the FBI sends this personal data to ICE, which checks to see whether it matches information in its databases and whether the individual is subject to deportation. Yet, the information in ICE databases is not always reliable or up to date.

Because local agencies rely heavily on the FBI for background checks, the FBI can force them to participate in S-Comm. Many local and state agencies have been trying to opt-out of S-Comm, but according to Jessica Karp, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the FBI stands in their way:

The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Board, which oversees the FBI’s criminal databases, passed a motion in June 2009 recommending that the FBI convert S-Comm from a voluntary to a mandatory program. At that time—and as much as one year later—ICE was still representing S-Comm as voluntary to state and local officials. The FBI’s decision to support mandatory imposition of S-Comm was not driven by any statutory requirement but rather for what it called “record linking/maintenance purposes.” In fact, the FBI considered making S-Comm voluntary, showing that it viewed opting out as both a technological possibility and a lawful option.

S-Comm essentially does what Arizona’s SB1070 law—which requires police to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest—hoped to do, but on a national level. The image of FBI databases linked to those of Homeland Security should anger and concern every civil libertarian. With immense intelligence-collection power comes the responsibility to use information only for the purposes for which it was intended.

Even as immigration from Mexico has slowed to close to zero, senior law enforcement officials are trying to make sure that a heavy-handed, anti-immigrant security apparatus is well-entrenched.


FBI Raids Reveal Repressive Apparatus Run Amok

A recent Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s investigations of certain domestic advocacy groups from 2002-2006 found that the agency considered routine civil-disobedience violations, such as trespassing or vandalism, potential terrorism. For example, the Bureau determined that spilling human blood on walls, an American flag, and pictures were “forceful acts” sufficient to trigger inclusion on terror watchlists. The FBI today threatens to label peace activists – and a wide swath of people with whom they associate – as “terrorists” because of First Amendment activities that include travel and public education. Apparently, the bad practices under the Bush administration have not been reformed.

As a think tank that grew out of opposition to the FBI’s coordinated assault on dissenters during the 1970s, Political Research Associates (PRA) has witnessed and studied the penchant of American intelligence systems to treat peoples’ movements as subversive. The FBI belongs to a post-9/11 domestic security apparatus that is unprecedented in size, and largely unaccountable to democratic control. A recent Washington Post article estimated its size at 845,000 public and private personnel. As protectors of civil liberties, Congress must embrace its oversight function and reign in homeland security agencies that continue to confuse ideology for crime.

PRA adds its voice to those of other progressive and civil liberties organizations, and all those who value democracy and dissent, in denouncing these raids. We believe that all Americans should stand in defense of the Constitution and all individuals who have been wrongly targeted for their principles objection to U.S. military interventions abroad.

Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI

Days after the release of the IG’s report, the FBI raided the homes of twenty peace activists from Minneapolis to Chicago under the guise of fighting terrorism. The harsh manner in which the raids were conducted, the sweeping scope of the warrants, and the lack of any credible threat of terrorism all suggest that the FBI may once again be abusing its power to intimidate social change movements.

Beginning on Friday, September 24, the FBI executed search warrants against at least eight homes and offices in Chicago, upstate Michigan, the Twin Cities, and Ohio. In Minneapolis, a SWAT team knocked on activist Mick Kelly’s door at about 7 a.m. When Kelly’s partner asked to see the search warrant, the agents busted down the door, causing it to fly across the room and break a fish tank.

About twenty agents spent most of the day searching the Chicago home of activists Stephanie Weiner and Joseph Iosbaker. “We aren’t doing anything differently than we have in twenty years,” said Weiner, a teacher at Wilbur Wright College. The FBI carried thirty boxes of papers dating from the 1970s from Iosbaker’s attic to sift for evidence. In Jefferson Park, FBI agents removed boxes and electronic equipment from the apartment of community activist Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

The FBI also raided the homes of Jessica Sundin and Meredity Aby, who helped organize rallies at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The FBI and local law enforcement infiltrated advocacy groups prior to the RNC and charged several protestors with terrorism offenses, which were later dismissed outright. Sundin called the suggestion that they were connected with terrorism “pretty hilarious and ridiculous.” Mick Kelly’s lawyer, Ted Dooley, explained that the FBI agents were looking for “everything related to potential co-conspirators, including Kelly’s personal contacts in the United States and abroad. It’s kind of unconstitutional and hideous.”

The activists targeted are involved in numerous groups, including the Palestine Solidarity Group, Students for a Democratic Society, the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Colombia Action Network, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), and the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera (a Colombian political prisoner).

At least a dozen activists were served subpoenas from a grand jury seeking records of payments to Abudayyeh’s organization and groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

No arrests have been made, suggesting that prosecutors lack probable cause for an indictment against anyone. An FBI spokesperson admitted to the Associated Press that the bureau knows of no “imminent threat to the community.” He said the FBI was seeking evidence related to “activities concerning material support for terrorism” as part of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.

Several of the FBI’s targets belong to FRSO and occasionally contribute to a socialist newsletter that is critical of the U.S. wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subpoena issued to FRSO activist Thomas Burke requested “items related to trips to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.” Burke said he had toured Colombia eight years ago with members of an oil workers union. He told the press, “We barely have money to publish our magazine. We might write about [revolutionary groups] favorably, but as for giving them material aid, nothing.”

Labeling Free Speech as Subversive

These raids mark a disturbing pattern of criminalizing Americans’ international solidarity work.According to Thomas Cincotta, the Civil Liberties Project Director at PRA, “the FBI has played fast and loose with the definition of terrorism, abusing its power to intimidate and repress challengers of U.S. foreign policy.”

Political Research Associates maintains a library and archive that documents the U.S. government’s long history of red-baiting and demonizing the Left, from the Red Scare of the 1920s to McCarthyism to J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal COINTELPRO program during the 1960s and 1970s, which aimed to “neutralize” the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were labeled terrorists during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In the 1980s, the FBI closely monitored U. S. activists who supported the resistance to dictatorship and U.S. intervention in Central America. When all the facts were revealed in 1988, Congress repeatedly criticized the FBI for interpreting “support for terrorism” to include peaceful political and humanitarian activities. According to the civil rights expert David Cole, the FBI admitted that its investigation of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, in particular, had been overbroad, improperly focused on activities permitted under the First Amendment, and a waste of resources.

Anti-terrorism laws have given the FBI wide latitude to repress political activists as well as American Muslims. The FBI felt that reforms instituted following the CISPES investigation tied its hands in domestic investigations. In response, Congress included a “support for terrorism” provision in the 1996 Antiterrorism Act that has paved the way for the FBI to slide back to the days of Hoover.

Since 9/11, PRA has witnessed the selective prosecution of Muslims, South Asians, Arabs, and people of Middle Eastern descent using the “material support” and immigration laws. Under Attorney General Ashcroft’s direction, thousands of Muslim immigrants were rounded up and deported or interviewed, but no actual terrorists were uncovered. PRA’s 2010 Report, Platform for Prejudice explains how the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative encourages law enforcement and the public to profile on the basis of race and religion and treat dissenters as potential terrorists. Just as the Justice Department cast a wide net over communities of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern and Arab nationalities, the FBI seems to be imposing collective guilt over an entire network of peace activists.

PRA shares the concerns of the Charity and Security Network, which sees connections between the recent raids on activists and discriminatory scrutiny of Muslim charities. In both circumstances, the “material support” law has been used to tar Americans with the terrorist label even where no threat exists. The government has even tried to punish groups for interacting with people or groups that are not on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. For example, leaders of the Holy Land Foundation were convicted of providing material support because they gave aid to local zakat committees that were not on the list, but that the government alleged were controlled by Hamas, which is on the list. (zakat committees distribute charity for the poor and aged, in accordance with one of the Five Pillars of Islam). The trial court did not require the jury to find that the defendants knew or even should have known that these committees had Hamas connections.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Court held that it is constitutional for Congress to prohibit a broad range of interactions with designated terrorist groups, including attempts at peace building and support for nonviolence. Offering advice, training, and service to a designated terrorist organization, the Court said, constitutes material support for terrorism under the 1996 law. It emphasized that the prohibition does not apply to pure political speech, naively asserting, “the statute is carefully drawn to cover only a narrow category of speech…in coordination with foreign groups that the speaker knows to be terrorist organizations.” However, the opinion provides no definition of “coordinated,” leaving room for overly broad interpretations.

Tell Congress to Stop Political Repression

PRA has observed that liberals and right-wing groups tend to tolerate state repression when it targets political opponents. Just as PRA criticized Homeland Security reports on Right Wing Extremism in 2009, we now call on all people of good conscience to defend the Constitution. The conservative blogosphere – the same one that warns of a creeping fascism in the United States – is trying to use the raids to smear Obama and unions. A blogger at the conservative Red Stateclaims that trade unionists who will march on Washington on October 2nd to demand jobs are unpatriotic Leftists, linked to terrorism abroad. Another right wing pundit tries to slander Obama by pointing to his past “ties” with the Arab American Action Network. Says Cincotta, “These narrow-minded responses illustrate the destructive power of the terrorism label. They underscore the need for constant vigilance to defend the presumption of innocence and respect for the First Amendment no matter where you stand.”

So far, progressives and civil libertarians are responding with action. Groups such as the National Lawyers Guild pledged support for the protestors. Bruce Nestor, former president of the guild, calls the raids “a direct attack on people who are strong, dedicated advocates of freedom, of the right of people to be free from U.S. domination. It is an attack upon anybody who organizes against U.S. imperialism abroad.”

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at PRA who helped litigate against illegal FBI surveillance in the 1960s, emphasized the need for Congressional oversight, no matter who is in the White House:“Since its beginning, the FBI has proved itself incapable of discerning the difference between free speech and dissent, and subversion and terrorism. By repeatedly conflating dissent with terrorism, the FBI defies the clear mandate of the Constitution, which it is sworn to uphold. They only thing that reigns in this marauding is Congress. And the only thing that will force Congress to act is a swift kick by people across the political spectrum.”

Although the tactics of intimidation are familiar, we cannot ignore them. People are already organizing loud, visible protests to challenge the legitimacy of the FBI’s raids. To show your support, you can:

  • Call the attorney general’s office at (202) 353-1555 to demand an end to intimidation of peace activists.
  • Call your congressional representative to demand that the FBI stop harassing activists and close the “material support” loopholes that give the FBI room to target peaceful domestic advocacy.Congress should hold hearings on the violations identified in the Inspector General’s recent report and uncover the full extent of the FBI’s misuse of counter-terror laws and watchlist practices.
  • Participate in local actions to protest these raids, including outside the Grand Jury convening inChicago on October 12.



Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI Speak Out,” CBS News (Sept. 26, 2010).

Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, “One Key to Litigating Against Government Prosecution of Dissidents: Understanding the Underlying Assumptions – Part II,” Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Reporter, Vol. 5, No. 14 (March-April 1988).

Charity and Security Network, “Searches, Grand Jury Investigation Target Anti-War Activists in Chicago, Minneapolis,” (Sept. 27, 2010).

James X. Dempsey and David Cole, Terrorism & The Constitution (First Amendment Foundation, 2002), pp. 25-33.

Frank Donner, “Terrorist as Scapegoat,” The Nation (May 20, 1978).

Editorial, “A Reminder for the F.B.I.,” New York Times (Sept. 27, 2010).

FBI raids homes of anti-war activists,” Chicago Breaking News (Sept. 24, 2010).

Mara H. Gottfried, “FBI raids six locations In Minneapolis as part of terrorism investigation,” Twin Cities (Sept. 24, 2010).

The FBI is Seeking Extended Powers to Snoop into our Electronic Communications

It’s well known that the FBI has historically abused its power to investigate non-criminal Americans—in the 1960s, the FBI relied on informants and undercover agents to burglarize the offices of the Socialist Workers Party and other movement organizations to steal membership lists, bank accounts, and other sensitive data. Now, a proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act would allow the FBI to bypass judicial review and obtain this same information on demand.[1]

Including “electronic communication transactional records” into the wording of the legislation would allow the FBI to infiltrate internet activity such as social networking, inquiries from search engines, and sales from online vendors. [2] While the content of emails are (theoretically) private, the FBI could legitimately access the recipients’ names of within an individual’s emails, along with the time and date that any online form of communication was sent. [3]

To get this information, the FBI simply has to ask for it in the form of a National Security Letter, or NSL, an administrative subpoena that does not require judicial oversight or probable cause.

This development is troubling, to say the least, especially since about 50,000 NSLs are already being issued per year. The Justice Department Inspector General has complained that the FBI is failing to adequately justify the reasons for requesting all this information. [4] Similarly, the FBI director has admitted that “suspicion of wrongdoing is not required” in order for the FBI to issue surveillance on an individual. Essentially, the FBI is able to investigate Americans who have no criminal engagement or inclination. [5]

Individuals who come under the FBI’s scrutiny have included Muslims, animal rights activists, and other protestors who have not participated in extralegal activities. The use of NSLs to target these noncriminals is reminiscent of the counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), whose objective was “to expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize the New Left organizations, their leadership and adherents,” except in this era, the issue is combating terrorism, not communism.[6]

The Washington Post’s two-year investigation on FBI surveillance abuses, Top Secret America, is a worthy read This exposure, in addition to civil rights and civil liberty activist organizations’ protests, has brought this issue closer to the forefront and put pressure on Congress in how to respond to the FBI’s demands to expand their domain. A group of 46 progressive nonprofits, including Political Research Associates, recently wrote a letter to the Senate urging for further oversight of the FBI.

The $75 billion private surveillance industry has skyrocketed since 9/11, and it is a reasonable request that greater oversight is in place for the government’s part in investigating American citizens. [7] However, it is not Congress that has the cleared access necessary to inspect the FBI. Like The Washington Post whose investigation could only go so far due to confidentiality restrictions, Senators are not given full disclosure of FBI activities. Therefore, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) may be the only hope for keeping the FBI in check since a significant portion of staffers are cleared at the top-secret level. In addition, the GOA answers to Congress, not the president, making it less influenced by executive preferences. [8] If America has a chance of a future with FBI transparency, it lies within the GOA.

1. Ellen Nakashima, “White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity,” 29 July 2010, Washington Post, accessed 7 August 2010.
2. Julian Sanchez, “Obama’s Power Grab,” 29 July 2010, accessed 7 August 2010.
3. Bob Jacobson, “Obama Is Becoming the Most Anti-Privacy President Ever,” 9 August, 2010, Huffington Post, accessed 13 August 2010.
4. Ellen Nakashima, “Plaintiff Who Challenged FBI’s National Security Letters Reveals Concerns,” 10 August, 2010, Washington Post, accessed 13 August, 2010.
5. Associated Press article- Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman “FBI Director Defends Bureau over Test Cheating,” 28 July, 2010, Associated Press, accessed 10 August, 2010.
6. see Thomas Cincotta, “From Movements to Mosques, Informants Endanger Democracy
7. “Why the Intelligence Community Needs GAO Oversight,” Newsweek, accessed 7 August 2010.
8. “Why the Intelligence Community Needs GAO Oversight

‘Little Guantanamos’

As Guantanamo is in the agonizingly slow process of shutting its doors, another kind of facility seems poised take its place on U.S. soil. Communication Management Units (CMUs), special divisions within American prisons nicknamed ‘Little Guantanamos,’ house political and terrorism convicts who are denied the basic services provided to prisoners in the United States. These inmates are not permitted basic access to communication ranging from telephone use length, visitation frequency, and postal service privacy. [1]

Quietly established during the Bush administration, CMUs have garnered little media attention. The majority of CMU residents are Muslim; others are labeled as activists espousing ‘extremist views,’ specifically concerning animal rights.

After the government passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) in 2006, anyone who participates in animal welfare protests can be labeled a terrorist. Corporations that engage in animal brutality can now claim that these protesters have negatively impacted their profit margin, which is a criminal offense. Many of these activists have been arrested, some of whom have then been transferred to the CMUs.

The ACLU is currently engaged in the first high profile legal challenge to the CMUs. The case involves Andrew Stephaian, an animal rights activist, who is widely thought to be the first inmate ever released from a CMU. He was convicted of conspiring to violate the AETA and disseminating information over the internet that could possible incite criminal behavior in others. He spoke to “Democracy Now!” in an interview about his experiences while in the facility.

Will Potter, founder of, parallels the current environmental movement to the Red Scare. He argues that the government is simply labeling individuals as terrorists to push their own political agenda and justify these highly restrictive prison units. The National Lawyers Guild created a booklet, called Operation Backfire, to inform environmental and animal rights activists about their rights and discuss the ramifcations of the terrorism enhancement in the AETA. Many other organizations, including the Civil Liberties Defense Center, the Coalition to Abolish the AETAEqual Justice AllianceGreen, and Scholars for Academic Justice, have made the fight against the AETA a priority, along with heightening exposure of CMUs.

Two CMUs exist to date: one facility is located in Terre Haute, Indiana; the other is within the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Little else is known about these compounds, especially regarding the identities of the inmates housed there or how long their sentences within these facilities will last. Lack of transparency about these facilities hinders the ability to expose them as institutions indulging in religious and political discrimination.

If Obama is going to take a stand to shut down Guantanamo, he must close these “Little Guantanamos,”too. Inmates in CMUs should not be segregated from the rest of the prison population nor denied the basic services provided to the regular prison sector.

[1] Jennifer Van Bergen, 16 February, 2007, “Documents Show New Secretive Us Prison Program Isolating Muslim, Middle Eastern Prisoners,” The Raw Story, accessed 25 July, 2010.

Behavior Profiling: Ineffective and Expensive Security Theater

Behavioral profiling, the latest trend in pre-emptive policing, has been used in America’s airport terminals since 2003 when the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program was implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) across the United States. This past May, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA) issued a report assessing the program’s effectiveness, how much validity was established before SPOT went nationwide, and any improvements that could be made. The results reveal serious flaws in the SPOT program’s makeup and implementation.

The success of the initiative has yet to be seen in regards to counterterrorism; no scientific basis currently exists that supports the idea that mere observation of people’s behaviors can lead to identifying those with terrorist inclinations. Despite this lack of factual groundwork, airport security is increasingly relying on SPOT to locate people who may seem suspicious. Security officers may also be utilizing databases and other resources to identify the people pointed out by Behavior Detection Officers.

This $212 million dollar a year endeavor, which TSA wants $20 million more for 2011, has yet to uncover a single terrorist. [1] On top of that, the GOA reports, 16 people who have been previously flagged as terrorist sympathizers or accomplices were never picked up (or “spotted”) by Behavior Detection Officers despite having “moved through SPOT airports on at least 23 different occasions.”

“If the GAO weren’t so kind and subtly state it, this report would be rather damning,” mentioning that of the SPOT program’s “152,000 secondary referrals, only 1,100 have resulted in arrests, less then half of which might have anything to do with terrorism, and zero actual terrorists have been caught,” said Jim Harper, member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee during an oversight hearing.

When Harper asked U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano for her remarks on the report during the July hearing, she alleged she was not aware of the GOA’s report. She has yet to make any public comments concerning the effectiveness of the SPOT program.

The GOA report recommends that TSA introduce an independent review panel to evaluate the SPOT program and that security officers make better use of the different resources available to them. The GOA acknowledged that TSA lacked “outcome oriented measures” to review SPOT’s progress, but falls short of recognizing its obvious ineffectiveness. Merely observing a random pool of the public will never be a sufficient method to prevent terrorist attacks. Instead, it provides opportunities for routine racial profiling and detaining innocent people for questioning, a blatant Fourth Amendment infringement.

Organizations including Political Research Associates rightly take issue with such flagrant violations on civil liberties, especially as the SPOT program has yet to locate a single terrorist in its years of operation. There is no reason for Americans to continue allowing their tax dollars to fund this piece of security theater. The initiative has yet to make anyone safer in the air—instead, it allows the government to hamper freedom and interrupt the personal lives of everyday citizens.

[1] Roger Yu, 24 May, 2010, “Airport Check-in: TSA Behavior Screening Misses Suspects,” USA Today, accessed 25 July, 2010.

FBI JTTF Agent Hands Private Data Over to Corporate Security Guards

A Texas City police officer, Cpl. Tom Robison, detained freelance photographer Lance Rosenfieldduring the first week of July 2010 for taking pictures of public signs. The law enforcement harassment of Mr. Rosenfield resembles hundreds of similar acts around the country, where taking pictures on public land in the bright of day is mistaken for “surveillance.” The Coast Guard and BP have recently raised eyebrows along the Louisiana gulf coastline for blockingphotographers’ access to beaches and marshland under the pretext of safety for “boom maintenance workers,” according to independent photojournalist Georgianne Nienaber. See: Kevin Gosztola, “Embedded Media Only Allowed to Cover Oil Disaster?” (May 20, 2010). Rosenfield’s experience – which involved a roadside interrogation by an officer attached to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force – provides added insight into how law enforcement collaboration with private industry threatens privacy rights and civil liberties.

Throughout the growing homeland security bureaucracy, government agencies collaborate more and more closely with private companies. Technology firms like MEMEX design and run information-sharing databases for fusion centers. “Critical Infrastructure Support Groups” connect law enforcement with industrial security firms for power plants, hospitals, and transportation providers. New systems like Infragard give private industry access to sensitive security information. These new entanglements provide many opportunities for private personal data to be shifted from government hands to the corporate sector, increasing the risk of identity theft or other harm. The Department of Homeland Security is busy developing electronic mechanisms to protect privacy, but Mr. Rosenfield’s situation shows that disclosure can be as simple as handing over a piece of paper to a security guard.

As reported on Democracy Now, Mr. Rosenfield was acting on assignment for an investigation by Pro Publica and Frontline into an April 2010 toxic chemical release at BP’s massive refinery in Texas City. On April 6, just two weeks before the explosion on the deepwater horizon oil rig, 538,000 pounds of chemicals began spewing into the atmosphere. When Rosenfield started taking photos of the local town and roadway signs to give a portrait of the town itself, he was followed by BP security guards and Texas City police officers. Police Officer T. Krietemeyer pulled in after Mr. Rosenfield stopped at a gas station and demanded to review his photographs. (You can view the video from the dashboard camera here). Says Rosenfield,

They had reports that I was taking photographs. And I said, ‘Yes, I’m a photojournalist.’ And they said, ‘We need to see your pictures.’ I said, well, you know, ‘Without a warrant, I don’t feel like I need to show you the pictures.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can show ‘em to us now or we can to this later with Homeland Security.’

In blatant disregard for Mr. Rosenfield’s privacy rights, the Officer Krietemeyer gathered Rosenfield’s personal information, including his social security number, and then turned around and handed that information directly to BP’s security guard, Mr. Stief. Mr. Rosenfield objected to no avail. Next, Cpl. Tom Robison, a liaison with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, arrived and continued questioning Mr. Rosenfield in an aggressive and antagonistic fashion. Cpl. Robison explained his view that “a refinery is a terrorist target and any time people take pictures of it, they have to investigate.” After concluding that the photos did not represent a terrorist threat, Mr. Rosenfield was free to leave the scene.

In a statement from BP, the company claims that Officer Krietemeyer provided BP with information needed to make a report to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC), consistent with regulatory requirements under 33 C.F.R Part 101.305. Any duty to report incidents to the Coast Guard is limited to suspicious activity. 33 CFR Part 101.305 requires an owner of a maritime facility to report activities that “may result in a transportation security incident.” Nothing that Mr. Rosenfield did was suspicious under any reasonable standard. He did not enter facility property or possess photos of any BP facilities. Of course, the purpose of this reporting mechanism is to notify law enforcement. Here, a member of the JTTF (to which the Coast Guard belongs) already possessed the information, so there was no need to pass it on to BP so it could notify law enforcement! The fact that the NRC now has an incident report with Mr. Rosenfield’s personal information on file should not comfort anyone.

This is not the only time that the FBI JTTF liaison was involved in detaining a refinery photographer. In July 2008, a photographer for the Galveston County Daily News was also detained by Cpl. Robison. Officer Robison, it was alleged, tried to cajole Kevin Cox into showing him photos of Marathon refinery employees cleaning up a minor oil spill during a 45-minute detention. Both Texas City Police and the FBI assert a legal right to review photos of refineries, although where this power comes from is not clear.

Ban All Racial Profiling Without Exception

On Monday this week, the New York Times announced that its investigation of NYPD “stop and frisk” practices from 2006 through 2010 found police stopped 52,000 people in a small eight-block predominantly black neighborhood called Brownsville. That’s one stop per year for every one of the neighborhood’s 14,000 residents. Police claim that almost half of those stops were prompted by “furtive action” of the resident. Action by Congress to ban profiling based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion is long overdue, but Congress has been diverted by politicized and uninformed calls to use race-based profiling as a counterterrorism tool.

Prior to 9/11, a consensus was emerging in the country that racial profiling was a common, destructive practice requiring federal action. Congress is today poised to reconsider the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), first introduced in 2001, which would prohibit all law enforcement officers from engaging in racial profiling. The proposed ERPA provides legal options to individuals injured by racial profiling and includes grants to state and local agencies to enable them to meet the bill’s requirements. Arizona’s passage of SB1070 highlights the need for comprehensive federal legislation banning racial profiling, especially since copycat legislation is cropping up in at least eighteen more states. Arizona’s new anti-immigration law will intensify and spread racial profiling because it essentially criminalizes “walking while brown” by requiring law enforcement to act on reasonable suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally and arrest them if they fail to produce papers. Despite candidate Obama’s promise to ban profiling, and support for ERPA byAttorney General Eric Holder, the bill has yet to be introduced in this Congressional term. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill on June 17, 2010, but there remains strong pressure to carve out an exemption to allow profiling for national security reasons. Political Research Associates calls on Congress to pass ERPA and opposes any effort to water down the legislation with a national security exemption.

A national security exemption would create an enormous loophole in a nationwide ban on racial profiling. Under this loophole, current pretexts for racial profiling such as gang or drug enforcement could be justified under a new national security rationale. In Arizona, border security could easily be twisted to justify detentions and searches based on nothing more than ethnicity and nationality. Since 2003, FBI guidelines that generally prohibit racial profiling by federal law enforcement do allow the practice for purposes of “national security” and “border security.” As a result, racial profiling has become more pronounced since September 11, 2001, particularly among Muslim, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities. The U.S. government has also mobilized local cops to gather and report “suspicious activities” in a manner that frequently targets people solely on the basis of nationality and religion.

An exemption for national security is entirely inconsistent with equal protection guarantees in the Constitution. In declaring that racial profiling is wrong and immoral, except where national security is at stake, the government currently asserts that there is something unique about the “War on Terror” that makes ethnicity and race legitimate factors when the same tactics have been found to be ineffective and discriminatory in other criminal investigations. That approach ignores the fact that there has not been a single documented incident where racial profiling by law enforcement resulted in the capture or detention of any suspect related to terrorism. The FBI caught no terrorists when it sought out 8,000 Middle Easterners and Muslims to interview in the months following 9/11. Instead, the interviews may have had a chilling effect on relations between the Arab community and law enforcement. Stereotyping in any context is too blunt, almost always overbroad, and a poor substitute for investigations based on particularized suspicion. Congress should listen to the U.S. intelligence officials who have emphasized that focusing on racial characteristics of individuals wastes resources and diverts attention away from criminal behavior by people who do not fit the profile.

Instead of spending millions of dollars to fill our jails with hard-working people, states like Arizona should be creating living-wage jobs and supporting those who keep the economy afloat. More importantly, the federal government should act quickly to shut down any law that criminalizes groups of people based on their race or nationality. The Department of Justice lawsuit against SB1070 is a good start, but Washington should also set the example by banning all racial profiling in the FBI guidelines and pass the ERPA.

Suspicious Activity Reporting Expands to LAX and Amtrak: A Recipe for Racial Profiling

In an expansion of the national Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR), law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials recently tied both Amtrak and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) into the initiative. Unfortunately, although SAR is meant to help intelligence analysts “connect the dots,” it has a major flaw: it encourages police to gather and share information about completely legal activities in which thousands of people engage every day. Many of these activities are so common that racial, religious, and ethnic factors often determine whether the activities are perceived as “suspicious.” [1]

On July 1, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the See Something, Say Something campaign, originally launched after 9/11 by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and funded in part by $13 million from DHS’s Transit Security Grant Program. The campaign generated “tips” about Middle Eastern men “speaking in a foreign language” on their cellphones and about a person photographing trains at New York’s Penn Station. The photographer was participating in an Amtrak contest. Now the campaign is going national. Napolitano described the new Amtrak version as a “simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime, and other threats.” [2] (Could this program possibly be less specific about terrorist behavior than “See Something, Say Something”??)

On July 3, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced that it would expand its controversial and unproven iWatch program to LAX. The program encourages people to report activities that “do not seem right” and individuals who “do not seem to belong” to the authorities, vague standards that invite untrained citizens to act on the racial prejudices that often underlie their anxieties about terrorism, potentially distracting security professionals from real threats.

In its announcement, the LAPD boasted that iWatch is the “21st century version of neighborhood watch.” An educational component explains the kinds of activities in which terrorists engage and encourages people to report these. iWatch supporters point to this educational component to defend themselves against allegations of racial profiling, but the initiative is still too new to show whether it leads to useful tips. Despite this and other potential glitches, iWatch is already being marketed to and “adopted by law enforcement agencies nationwide.” [3]

Not one terrorism plot has ever been uncovered by a citizen-watch program. Shoe-bomber Richard Reid, Christmas day bomber Umar Farouk Abduulmutallab, Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and even the 9/11 hijackers did nothing to arouse the suspicions of ordinary people before they boarded their aircraft. On June 6, 2010, two accused terrorists from New Jersey boarded a plane at JFK Airport that was flying to Egypt, yet nothing they did at the airport provoked anyone to “see something, say something.” [4] In some cases, even Homeland Security professionals trained to recognize the threats saw nothing unusual or did not do their jobs. Passengers acted appropriately and instinctively to subdue Reid and Abduulmutallab when they attempted to set off their bombs – but they didn’t need iWatch or similar programs to tell them to act with common sense.

TSA officials treat Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not, differently from the rest of the air traveling public. These travelers are routinely asked lengthy and inappropriate questions about their faith and personal politics when they enter the country, such as, “What is your religion? What mosque do you attend? How often do you pray? What charities do you contribute to? and What do you think of the war in Iraq?” [5] They are often targeted for discriminatory searches of laptops and other personal property. One Muslim father explained to the audience at an interfaith colloquium at New York University that his 21-year-old son, who is American-born and raised, is subjected to extra security every time he boards a plane. His son now feels disenfranchised in his own country.

Religious profiling at airports has intensified since the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The number of people on the federal no-fly list, the majority of whom are Muslims and have no criminal records, has increased. People on the no-fly list can neither travel domestically nor return into the United States from abroad—so Americans who were traveling when the list was updated cannot re-enter to their country. The ACLU is currently litigating several such cases.

Suspicious-activity reporting at airports and transportation hubs has delivered nothing useful. In January 2002, police officers stopped an Arab American passenger en route to Washington, D.C., because the airplane’s pilot requested that he be “checked out” because he had “an Arabic name.” On October 28, 2001, three Arab American women were prevented from boarding their flight because airline personnel heard them quietly praying before the flight and became concerned upon hearing one of the women say the word “Allah.” [6] JetBlue and the Transportation Security Administration were forced to pay $240,000 to Raed Jarrar after they refused to permit him to board his flight while wearing a t-shirt that read, “We Will Not Be Silent” in Arabic and English. In January 2009, members of a large Muslim family on AirTran Flight 9 were removed from the plane because two of them had been casually speaking about the “safest place to sit on an airplane.” Even after the FBI cleared the group, AirTran refused to rebook them. [7]

Pushing iWatch in an environment where law abiding Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim members of the public are already subject to heightened scrutiny is irresponsible and harmful. It will stir up fear and anxiety among the traveling public, while also promoting the belief that government is doing something – even if it is theater – to keep them safer.

1. See Political Research Associates, Platform for Prejudice (March 2010) [web link]. See also, ACLU, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting” (June 29, 2010)
3. See LAPD Blog, iWATCH Launches at Los Angeles International Airport Program Encourages Airport Visitors and Communities to Help Fight Terrorism (accessed 29 June 2010).
4. “Feds tracked N.J. terror suspects for years,” USA Today, June 8, 2010.
5. Muslim Advocates, “Unreasonable Intrusions,” April 2009.
6. Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, “Wrong Then, Wrong Now: Racial Profiling Before & After September 11, 2001.”
7. ACLU and Rights Working Group, “Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in the United States,” June 30, 2009.

Praying as Suspicious Behavior in the Henderson 7 Case

Since 9/11, practicing Islam has been unfairly viewed as suspicious in some circles, including among many in law enforcement. On December 20, 2009, in Henderson, Nevada, a concerned caller notified police that seven Muslim men were praying in a gas-station parking lot. The men had been traveling through the area and had stopped to perform one of the five daily prayers required in their religion. Although the caller did not describe any illegal conduct, the Henderson police investigated the “incident,” detaining the seven Muslims for approximately forty minutes and searching their vehicle. No arrests were made that night, but the FBI recently questioned five of the men again. [1] Muslim advocacy groups have raised alarms about this unfair and prejudicial treatment, emphasizing that the men were doing nothing suspicious and should not have been placed under so much scrutiny for an innocuous, legal activity.

Although police claim that local policy required them to check out the scene since they received a terrorism-related tip, it is unclear why they needed so much time to investigate the men. Indeed, it is disquieting that the simple act of praying prompted suspicion, on the parts of both U.S. citizens and police. Would they respond the same way to yoga, tai chi, or other peaceful movements in a public space?

One of the seven men recorded part of the investigation on his camera phone. In the recording, a police officer says he doesn’t know what the Muslims could be praying about and ignorantly suggests that they could be chanting, “I want to kill a police officer today.” [2] Police later admitted that “they were not trained well enough to know how to appropriately respond to Muslim religious behavior.” [3]

This is not the first time practicing Islam has been deemed suspicious activity by authorities. The Henderson Seven case is similar to a May 2002 incident in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in which fire trucks, police officers, and the bomb squad converged on a BJ’s Wholesale Club after Muslim men were sighted there praying at sunset. [4] The police evacuated the entire establishment and questioned the men. Clearly, racial bias influences these kinds of 911 calls about “suspected terrorists.”

Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians are often subjected to slurs, and hate crimes on the streets and discrimination in housing, public accommodations, education, and employment. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recommends training police about Muslim religious practices and civil rights, and disciplining officers who inappropriately target Muslims. Perhaps flagrant abuses from law authorities will serve as catalysts for ensuring better treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Continued unfair treatment, in contrast, is bound to result in the alienation and even disenfranchisement of Muslim American communities, just when the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and President Obama recommend that we develop relationships of mutual trust. John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, has publicly recognized that domestic counterterrorism efforts will fail if Muslims are not involved as partners. [5] When police officers and FBI agents spend their time pursuing innocent people because of ethnic or religious bias, they waste time they could spend on developing real leads.

1. Ritter, Ken. “Muslim Group Says FBI Still On Nevada Prayer Case,” SFGate, June 21, 2010. (accessed 6 July 2010).
2. see
3. Blasky, Mike. Las Vesgas Review Journal. “Racial Profiling Alleged: Muslims Criticize Henderson Police Tactics” (accessed 6 July 2010). Mar. 06, 2010
4. “Evacuation Due to Muslim Prayers Sparks Debate,” by Ray Henry, The Boston Globe, May 16, 2002.
5. “John Brennan’s Counterterrorism Vision vs. American Muslim Reality,” by Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, June 17, 2010.