[UPDATED April 28, 12:12 pm] The Associated Press is reporting today that Judge Cormac Carney has ruled that CAIR and the ACLU may not obtain FBI records pertaining to surveillance of Muslims in Southern California because of unspecified U.S. National Security concerns. Carney made the ruling after viewing records that the FBI turned over to the court because they were apparently responsive to the two groups' Freedom of Information Act request.
Despite ruling in favor of the FBI, however, Judge Carney blasted the agency for essentially lying about the existence of the records. "The government's representations were then, and remain today, blatantly false," he wrote. "The government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the court." Carney had ordered the FBI in 2009 to hand over any records that would respond to the lawsuit. When the FBI handed over exactly four pages, he ordered them to expand their search for records.
Ahiland Arulanatham, the ACLU's deputy legal director, told AP that he was worried that Carney's ruling would only encourage the FBI to be deceptive about its surveillance activities. "We're deeply concerned that the government appears to believe that they can mislead the courts when the American public seeks information about the government's activities," he said.
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[ORIGINAL POST, Feb. 23, 12:09 PM] Both the ACLU of Southern California and the Council for American-Islamic Relations announced today they're filing a class-action lawsuit against the FBI for using a convicted thief to spy on local mosques in Orange County. The announcement comes just days after the alleged spy, a self-described fitness consultant and government snitch named Craig Monteilh, filed a motion to have his theft conviction overturned. (Irony of ironies, Monteilh has also sued the FBI, saying his civil rights were violated).
Monteilh was the focus of an April 2009 Weekly cover story that featured exclusive interviews with two women who were the victims in his theft case. They described how he conned them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in an elaborate get-rich-quick scheme involving human growth hormones. By the time Irvine Police arrested Monteilh and charged him with grand theft, he'd already conned the FBI into paying him thousands per week to pose as a Muslim convert named Farouk al-Aziz who was interested in "jihad" activities.
The lawsuit filed today claims the FBI's use of Monteilh to spy on OC Muslims, focusing on "people who were more devout in their religious practice irrespective of whether any particular individual was believed to be involved in criminal activity," amounts to nothing less than religious discrimination, a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "Targeting Muslims for surveillance not only destroys community cohesion, but it also erodes the trust between law enforcement and Muslim communities, which in turn, undermines our national security interests," said Ameena Mirza Qazi, CAIR-LA's deputy executive director and staff attorney. "This broad investigation by the FBI that failed to produce even a single terrorism-related conviction was not based on suspicion of criminal activity, but rather on the targets being Muslim."
After Monteilh's work for the agency was exposed, Muslim and other groups throughout the country criticized the FBI for its poor judgment, noting that an FBI official had previously visited one of the mosques where Monteilh spied and had promised that no such activity would take place on his watch. In his interview with the Weekly two years ago, Monteilh claimed he uncovered a terrorist cell operating inside Orange County mosques and predicted that numerous arrests would occur that would prove him a hero. So far, only one person, an Afghan immigrant, has been charged with any crime connected with Monteilh's work--lying on his visa application--but federal prosecutors later dropped the charges.