Supporters of the Patriot Act and other expansive efforts to fight the “war on terror” often mock claims by civil libertarians that aggressive federal spying powers within the United States undermines civil liberties. We've often heard conservatives ask critics to name anyone who has lost any freedoms because of the government's post-9/11 powers.
Yet such dismissive attitudes toward government snooping are easily rebutted by recent events in Orange County. A convicted con artist named Craig Monteilh admitted last month that he infiltrated local mosques on behalf of the FBI and recorded conversations about the possibility of blowing up buildings. Although the FBI won't confirm Mr. Monteilh's identity, the agency acknowledges that one suspect had been secretly recorded by an informant, according to a Register report.
Local Muslims say that Mr. Monteilh, who went by Farouk al-Aziz, tried to bait them into discussing radical politics. Hussam Ayloush, head of the greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, told us that Mr. Monteilh went from one young Muslim to another and engaged in radical discourse that promoted terrorism. Some people, he said, stopped going to mosque to avoid these discussions. Some mosque-goers contacted the FBI to report the incident but were referred to the Irvine Police Department, he said. Mr. Ayloush said those men who called the authorities then became the subject of FBI interrogations.
We've heard reports that Muslims are afraid to talk about politics or civil liberties issues within their mosques or even among their friends because of fear that it will draw attention from undercover agents. We agree with Mr. Ayloush, that “there should not be a presumption of guilt among an entire community.” This could backfire, he explained, as the FBI should supposedly work with American Muslims in the event of a terrorist threat, not treat them as adversaries by creating fear of surveillance within mosques. (More)