A civil-rights group and a coalition of Muslim activists headed by a Corona man called on Congress this week to investigate a report that surveillance records of Southland Muslims were stolen from Camp Pendleton by military and law enforcement officials.
The request stems from a news report that military officials and law enforcement members of the Los Angeles County Terrorist Early Warning Group illegally took the top-secret documents from the base's Strategic Technical Operations Center.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz has been court-martialed and convicted for his role in the thefts.
While the details of the surveillance and the alleged theft remain largely unknown, the incident provides confirmation that the military and law enforcement groups have been gathering information about local Muslim communities, said Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office.
Groups such as the ACLU have long been fighting for more restrictions on government surveillance of U.S. citizens. The Camp Pendleton theft provides them support in their calls for increased oversight of secret surveillance programs, he said.
"One of the fundamental touchstones of our democracy is that the American military isn't to be used against the American people," German said. "What is the military doing with records of domestic surveillance activity?"
Camp Pendleton officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Hussam Ayloush, a Corona resident and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of the Greater Los Angeles Area, signed the letter along with members of five organizations asking the Senate and House judiciary committees to investigate along with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"It's not only a matter of protecting our civil rights -- it also hurts public safety by eroding the Muslim community's trust in law enforcement," Ayloush said.
As a Muslim and civil-rights activist, Ayloush believes he has been the target of government surveillance and is part of a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to release records pertaining to the surveillance of American-Muslims.
"We want to know to what extent surveillance is being conducted on law-abiding citizens, and who authorized it," he said. "We want to make sure that the Legislature is providing the checks and balances required by our Constitution. The ultimate goal is to ensure -- even during times of war, fear and paranoia -- that our Constitution is always being upheld.