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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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FBI Must Release Files on Its Muslim Spying

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge ordered the FBI to release more files on its domestic surveillance of Muslim communities in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in March ordered the FBI to disclose thousands of files on its domestic spying program, finding the bureau improperly invoked a law enforcement exemption to withhold requested records.

On Nov. 17, Seeborg gave the FBI 30 days to release an additional three categories of documents, despite the bureau's claim that the files qualify for attorney-client and deliberative process exemptions.

The ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and San Francisco Bay Guardian sued the FBI in 2010 for failing to produce records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The three categories of documents addressed in Seeborg's latest order include human advisory notices, frequently asked questions on threat assessments and draft training FAQs.

The FBI claimed the human advisory notices, which advise employees on issues such as what investigative techniques to use in certain situations, contain legal advice that make them privileged attorney-client information.

But Seeborg said that with the exception of one email, the bureau failed to show the notices were intended to be confidential. He said the wide distribution of the notices to all administrative and investigative employees implies that the files are not privileged .

Seeborg also ruled the FBI could not entirely withhold its FAQs on threat assessments because some portions of the documents "do not appear to contain legal advice."

He rejected the bureau's argument that its draft training FAQs were part of a deliberative process and therefore exempt.

Seeborg found the document featured only comments on how to convey existing polices rather than create new ones, and that it was not used to create a new policy or procedure.

"Nothing in the FBI's evidence suggests that advice about whether a comma should be inserted, word choice, or phrasing would discourage members of the Bureau from providing candid advice about the pros and cons of adopting a policy or practice," Seeborg wrote in his 10-page ruling.

He found that the FBI has not "carried its burden" to justify the exemptions it claimed. "Accordingly, the FBI has thirty (30) days from the date of this order to produce unredacted copies of the Human Advisory Notices, the FAQs for Threat Assessments and draft training FAQs. The redacted portions of page MC-1396 are exempt from disclosure."

Documents previously obtained through FOIA requests show the San Francisco FBI office targeted Bay Area mosques and compiled intelligence on the innocuous activities of Muslims based solely on their religious beliefs, according to the ACLU .

The files revealed that FBI training memos included claims that Muslims should be treated with suspicion, that Islam is inherently violent, and that religious practices and political activism by Muslims are signs of "increasing dangerousness," according to the ACLU report.

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