The American Civil Liberties Union and a prominent Muslim advocacy group that has a rocky history with the FBI filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department agency alleging the bureau improperly targeted Muslims for surveillance, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says paid FBI informant Craig Monteilh infringed on the constitutional rights of several hundred Muslims several years ago when the FBI allegedly ordered him to engage “indiscriminate surveillance” of Muslims. Monteilh has said he was told to keep an eye on members of an Irvine, Calif., mosque in an effort to find potential terrorists.
“The FBI should be spending its time and resources investigating actual threats, not spying on every American who happens to worship at a mosque,” Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, told The Post.
Law enforcement officials have said Monteilh served as a paid FBI informant for a number of years until 2007, according to The Post. But they have said he was working on an existing probe and wasn’t ordered to spy on Muslims because of their religion.
The FBI declined to comment to The Post on the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and CAIR.
The bureau has had a tense relationship with CAIR and the greater Muslim American community over the last decade.
In 2008, the FBI cut off contact with the leaders of the prominent Muslim advocacy organization because a terrorism trial in Dallas showed they were part of a support network for Hamas, which the U.S. classifies as a terrorist group for its history of suicide bombings against Israel. But the DOJ has since worked to improve its relationship with the Muslim American community.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the DOJ Civil Rights Division have said the DOJ is committed to protecting the rights of Muslim Americans while aggressively working to combat terrorism. In his remarks before the Muslim Public Affairs Council in 2009, Perez said racial profiling is “not just bad as a matter of civil rights; it is ineffective police work.”