The government’s use of surveillance, paid informants and invented terrorism plots prompts human rights concerns, according to the report by NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. The authors examined three high-profile cases in New York and New Jersey that they said raised questions about the role of the FBI and New York Police Department in creating the perception of a homegrown terrorism threat.
In the cases, each of which resulted in convictions and lengthy sentences, informants pretending to be Muslims pushed ideas about violent jihad and instigated plots that law enforcement later foiled, the report says.
The researchers urged the FBI and NYPD to revise guidelines that govern such investigations.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agency’s guidelines include effective oversight measures.
“The FBI does not investigate individuals absent specific information that they are committing crimes or pose a risk to national security,” spokeswoman Kathleen Wright said by email. “We do not investigate people … based solely on their race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation. Our internal guidelines expressly prohibit this conduct as well as such tactics to recruit informants.”
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne dismissed the report, saying the investigations had saved lives. “The accusations are false and the product of sloppy and biased polemics,” he said.
The report focused on specific cases, but similar allegations have been made in other domestic terrorism cases, in what the researchers said was “illustrative of larger patterns of law enforcement activities targeting Muslim communities.”
In February, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed suit against the FBI, alleging that it used a paid informant to infiltrate several Southern California mosques and “indiscriminately collect” personal information on possibly thousands of Muslim Americans. The undercover operation, which began in 2006, resulted in perjury and naturalization fraud charges against one member that were later dismissed.
“It’s clear the FBI is targeting people with no basis to believe they are involved in criminal activity,” said Peter Bibring, lead ACLU attorney for the Irvine lawsuit. “It is both a poor use of limited law enforcement resources and an invitation for ethnic and religious profiling.”