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Government surveillance all too common for Muslims, group says

A nonprofit hopes to bring awareness to surveillance tactics by the U.S. government and provide legal assistance to resist them.

A nonprofit hopes to bring awareness to surveillance tactics by the U.S. government and provide legal assistance to resist them. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — “It makes me so sick that they spied on us all of the time.”

“We came here for freedom of speech, freedom of religion. But we learned through experience that these things are untouchable.”

Nahla Al-Arian and her family were spied on for more than a decade by the U.S. government. Eventually, her husband Sami Al-Arian was imprisoned for his alleged involvement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He later struck a deal with prosecutors and was deported to Turkey. He was innocent. 

At a webinar on Friday, Nahla Al-Arian and her daughter, Leena Al-Arian spoke of their experience under surveillance. Unfortunately, they said, surveillance is all too common for Muslims and other minorities. 

“Many of us Muslim folks know that the U.S. government is engaging in surveillance against our communities,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney for Project South who was also the target for government surveillance for more than a decade.  “The community feels like it is under a state of siege.”

Many associate government surveillance as beginning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war on terror that followed, but at the webinar, staff of the nonprofit Project South discussed the lengthy history of government spying, as outlined in a thorough report they published in April. 

“U.S. surveillance is nothing new,” Shahshahani said. “It's not like Mustlim communities are the first ones being surveilled.”

The U.S. government has targeted Blacks, immigrants and Muslims ever since its founding — by monitoring mail, policing speech and conducting raids which rounded up and deported immigrants. 

Nearly a quarter of a million letters were opened and photographed by the CIA between 1953 and 1973, and about 300,000 individuals were indexed in a computer system from 1967-1973. In the late 1960’s, Army intelligence agents tried to penetrate political groups from the inside by pretending to be members and attending demonstrations and meetings, the report says. Some even posed as students at New York University to monitor Black studies classes. 

“The government, operating primarily through secret informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone 'bugs', surreptitious mail opening, and break ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens,” the report states. 

Amith Gupta, lead author of the report, says that surveillance continues, more aggressively than ever before. 

FBI agents have goaded Muslim youth and young adults into adopting extreme views and joining terrorist organizations, the report says. 

“They are purposefully radicalized by the FBI,” Gupta told participants in the webinar. “Individuals who showed no predisposition were aggressively pushed into agreeing to conduct which would be used to prosecute them.”

As Project South confronts surveillance abuses, they ask Muslim, Black and Immigrant communities to never speak to police or intelligence agents without an attorney present, embrace privacy-oriented technology and work to organize their communities against surveillance. 

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