Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide: Another Notch on the Belt of FBI's Suspect Activity?

The FBI is currently under investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General for reported cheating on tests administered for agents regarding the guidelines for limits on surveillance.

The agents underwent 16 hours of training to understand the guidelines—named, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide—which the FBI says is a “guide [that] equips agents with lawful and appropriate tools so the agency can transform itself into an intelligence-driven organization that investigates genuine criminal and national security threats.” The alleged cheating is in the form of some agents finishing the test suspiciously early, while others worked together as a group to take the test. FBI Director Robert Mueller claimed that these incidents are to be blamed on miscommunication and misunderstanding among FBI offices as to the procedure of how the test was to be administered. While the need for investigation is concerning on its own, the actual guidelines are also considered an invasive manual for investigation.

The operations manual gives agents the authority to “create maps of ethnic-oriented businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.” The guidelines essentially allow investigation not based on hard evidence of criminal activity, but instead on what the FBI considers “proper purpose”—a term that masks what is most likely reasons based on suspicion and alarm. It is also believed that the guidelines permit intrusive investigation of mosques, churches, and synagogues—once again without evidence of criminal activity. The system of data collection as outlined by the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide is problematic in that it may lend itself to an unconstitutional system of racial profiling by law enforcement.

Concerns for the conspicuous nature of the FBI’s operations guidelines are voiced by many special interest groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and Muslim legal groups, such as Muslim Advocates. Farhana Khera, the director of Muslim Advocates, has stated that “Law-abiding American Muslims have experienced increasing levels of discriminatory, invasive and abusive conduct by federal agents.” The guidelines do not target Muslims specifically and the ACLU is filing Freedom of Information Act requests in 29 states and Washington—in order to find out how the FBI is acquiring information and what information about race and ethnicity is used for.

The issues created by this operations manual are not just pertaining to an invasion of privacy in the lives of many ethnic-community members, but problems arise in regards to the relationship between law enforcement and the community at large. Michael German, ACLU lawyer and former FBI agent, believes that the implementation of this sort of information collection simply drives an even larger wedge between law enforcement and the people that they are supposed to serve. He also states that “the FBI should be focusing its efforts on people it has a factual basis for suspecting of wrongdoing, not targeting communities with race-based investigations.” By applying a method of investigation that is invasive in nature, the FBI may be instilling even further distrust in the hearts of community members that feel that they have to constantly be on the defense for obtrusive violations of their privacy. Instead, it would probably be more useful to expand on meaningful, collaborative relationships with not only the Muslim community, but various ethnic and religious groups.

This operations manual seems to be further perpetuating the problem with how the United States, and its varied agencies and organizations, is handling anti/counter-terrorism. Using anti-terrorism techniques, like the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, to invade the privacy of many is not the proper way to go about preventing further national security risks. This guide joins the ranks of the No-Fly List and the protesting of the “Ground Zero Mosque” as methods that are proved—or will be proved—as ineffective for the prevention of any further terrorism. While these tactics appear to be America’s only choice for moving closer to complete security, they are doing the opposite of what is intended.

These methods simply demonize certain ethnicities and religions, rather than working together with the communities to create a bond that would foster open communication and provide incentive for exchanging useful information.

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