While there have been allegations in the past of government investigation of mosques on issues relating to terrorism, the recent report, first featured in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, is said to be the first confirmation that surveillance is taking place.
An article in the Los Angeles Times (May 29) reports that information about the alleged spying surfaced in a case about classified files concerning terrorism that were stolen from a secure office used by military and civilian law enforcement officials at Camp Pendleton. Some of these classified records referred to the surveillance of Muslim communities in Southern California, specifically, the Islamic Center of San Diego. The records alleged that the mosque had been monitored as part of a federal surveillance program targeting Muslim groups, according to the Union-Tribune article.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman in Washington said an investigation was underway to determine “whether individuals connected to the military may have been involved in illegal activities.”
In a report from the Muslim Public Affair Council (June 3), the FBI Assistant Director John Miller was quoted as stating that “The FBI does not monitor the lawful activities of individuals in the United States, nor does the FBI have a surveillance program to monitor the constitutionally protected activities of houses of worship. We do not target or monitor legal activity of Muslim groups anywhere in the nation.”
In January 2006, similar reports surfaced of widespread surveillance and radiation monitoring of more than 100 Muslim American mosques, homes and businesses.
Corey Saylor, Washington spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the article in the San Diego Union-Tribune “has again raised concerns that our community is being watched.”
The reports of the monitoring have led CAIR and the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to call for congressional hearings on the matter. In a letter to the congressional committees, the groups said hearings are needed to determine the extent of the surveillance and whether people are being monitored because they are Muslim.
The Islamic Center of San Diego, where two of the 9/11 hijackers had attended at one period, was the only mosque mentioned in the San Diego Union-Tribune article. The report did not specify which other mosques in southern California were allegedly under surveillance.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, members of the Islamic Center of Irvine and other local mosques have complained about FBI agents questioning them about imams’ sermons and their rate of attendance.
ACLU lawyers regularly go to mosques to advise worshipers that they do not have to answer questions from FBI agents about how long they have been in the United States, how often they attend services and what they think about the sermons.
Richard Cimino is the founder and editor of Religion Watch, a newsletter monitoring trends in contemporary religion. Since January 2008, Religion Watch is published by Religioscope Institute. Website: www.religionwatch.com.