By Spencer S. Hsu and Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Clandestine FBI and Energy Department teams have monitored private property in the United States for signs of radiation without warrants, U.S. officials said yesterday.
Officials said the monitoring, which intensified after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, did not require warrants or court orders because it took place from publicly accessible areas or from parking lots or driveways leading to private facilities, which the FBI believes do not carry privacy protections.
According to a report yesterday by U.S. News & World Report, government teams were sent to more than 100 Muslim sites in the Washington area, including mosques, homes, businesses and warehouses, plus similar sites in Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Seattle.
The magazine, citing unnamed sources who knew about the secret program, said investigators sometimes went onto property under surveillance without a warrant, and some participants were threatened with firing after questioning the legality of the activity.
At its peak, three vehicles monitored 120 sites a day in and around Washington, nearly all of them Muslim targets identified by the FBI, the report said. The magazine said checks were made daily for about 10 months starting in 2002 and resumed during high threat periods.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the FBI does not target any group based on ethnicity, political or religious belief. "When intelligence information suggests that there may be a threat to public safety, particularly involving weapons of mass destruction, FBI investigators will go wherever the intelligence information takes them, acting within the framework of the law," he said.
Department spokesman John Nowacki said the government "is concerned with the growing body of reporting that al Qaeda has an intention to obtain and use chemical or radiological materials in an attack against Americans, and with this in mind, the FBI, as part of an interagency team, conducts passive operation in publicly accessible areas to determine the presence of nuclear materials in the area, in a manner that protects U.S. constitutional rights."
The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in 2001 that warrants are required for police to use devices that search through walls for criminal activity, striking down the use of a heat sensor that led to marijuana charges against an Oregon man.
"The message they are sending through these kinds of actions is that being Muslim is sufficient evidence to warrant scrutiny," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, director of outreach for Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, called the surveillance another example of unwarranted activity -- "both unwarranted from the standpoint of spying on Muslims who are only trying to observe their rituals and unwarranted in terms of not having proper judicial review."
"I don't understand what good this sort of surveillance is doing," said Mukit Hossain, trustee of the All Dulles Area Muslims Society in Sterling. "What we are doing is harassing the immigrants and citizens and we haven't found one that is a terrorist."
He said this kind of surveillance fuels "anti-Muslim feelings in America and a public relations problem for America in Muslim countries."