Press Releases

Community Updates: The Latest on Our Fight to Disrupt Spying on Muslim Americans

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds

May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad and his family

As-salamu alaykum,

This week, CAIR held a national press conference to share important updates on our fight to disrupt the activities of an anti-Muslim hate group that has spent years paying people to spy on Muslim activists, leaders and organizations for the benefit of the Israeli government.

Last month, we revealed that the so-called Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), a hate group founded by far-right extremist Steven Emerson, was using “moles” like Romin Iqbal to spy on the Muslim community.

Steven Emerson

Since then, our investigation has uncovered significant new information. We now know much more about who this hate group was targeting, who it was working with, how it used money to entice and pay spies, and why it was engaged in this unethical and even illegal behavior.

You can watch our press conference to learn more or read below for a summary. These are the five important updates that we can now share with the community and the public this week:

1. Multiple IPT Collaborators Come Forward to Apologize and Cooperate

The first major development is that two people who once spied on the Muslim community for IPT came forward to apologize, provide information, and assist our investigation. To be clear, neither of these individuals were affiliated with or employed by CAIR. 

One of the people who came forward is a longtime employee of IPT who came to realize that the organization is unjustly targeting the Muslim community for the benefit of a foreign government. 

As this whistleblower put it: “I came to realize that IPT’s main concern was not protecting our nation from legitimate threats, but protecting a foreign government—Israel—from legitimate criticism. We were essentially being used as an Israel lobbying organization. Demonizing people who simply have opinions we may not agree with has become sport, yet I was doing it as part of my job.” 

You can read the whistleblower’s full statement here. We are not releasing their name to protect them from retaliation by Steven Emerson, who has a history of bullying, threatening and cursing his staff.

The other person who came forward is a member of the Muslim community who was paid to surveil Muslim organizations and leaders from 2008 to 2012. Before we tell you more about him, we want to emphasize that this individual came forward voluntarily,  contacted various community leaders to confess and apologize, and agreed to fully cooperate with our investigation. He has been providing us with extensive and helpful information about IPT’s efforts to target the community.

The brother who came forward is Tariq Nelson. You can read this public statement he has provided explaining what he did. We encourage anyone else in the community who engaged in this behavior to follow his example, come forward and do the right thing for the sake of Allah.

2. How IPT Used Money to Entice Spies and Break the Law

The IPT whistleblower and Tariq Nelson have been able to confirm evidence we already had in our possession and provide us with new information about IPT’s activities. 

According to the IPT whistleblower, Emerson used money to entice and pay spies to target the community. Thanks to Tariq, we also know that Emerson used his for-profit corporation, SAE Productions, to pay him about $3,000 per month for around four years.  We have released a tax form that shows one year of those payments.

We also now know that Emerson’s activities were breaking the law. Recording people without their permission is a crime in numerous states, yet that’s exactly what IPT was systematically doing to Muslim leaders across the country.

3. IPT’s Collaboration with Congress, Other Hate Groups and the Israeli Government

Last month, we released emails showing that IPT was communicating, assisting and collaborating with Israeli intelligence officials in the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

In one exchange, the Israeli government asked Emerson for information on an American college student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. In a different exchange, Emerson receives a new request for information from Israel and sends his staff an email with the subject line, “Urgent research request from Netanyahu office.”

It is disturbing enough to know that a hate group was targeting other Americans in service to the Israeli government. But we also now know that certain Republican members of Congress may have been aware of what Emerson was doing. We are investigating to learn more about this. We have also learned that at least one law enforcement agency may have also been aware. We are investigating this further.

Emerson was also allegedly working with anti-Muslim bigots like Daniel Pipes, the racist founder of the Middle East Forum, an Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian hate group. According to Tariq Nelson, Emerson arranged for Daniel Pipes to contact Tariq. According to Tariq, Pipes asked him to publicly criticize Islam and Muslims, which Tariq refused to do. This interaction shows that other anti-Muslim hate groups may have known that IPT was spying on the Muslim community. We continue to investigate this.

4. IPT’s Efforts to Spy on the Broader Muslim Community

We have confirmed that IPT was surveilling or spying upon nearly every major Muslim organization for more than a decade. Sometimes, the hate group sent paid moles or IPT staffers undercover into public events wearing hijabs and carrying purses with hidden cameras. Other times, IPT infiltrated and spied on private gatherings of Muslim leaders. 

For example, in 2010, IPT spied on and recorded a private conference call that national Muslim leaders hosted to discuss the Park51 controversy. This incident alone targeted nearly every major organization in the Muslim community. This is a redacted first page of the transcript of the recording that IPT created.

IPT was also obsessively targeting then-Rep. Keith Ellison during the early years of his congressional career. They compiled a 40+ page dossier on him, including his speeches and interviews. IPT was particularly focused on anything Rep. Ellison said about Palestinian human rights. 

We have confirmed that IPT recorded a private campaign fundraiser that Rep. Ellison attended at a Muslim donor’s home in 2010. During the event, Rep. Ellison expressed support for Palestinian human rights. Years later, IPT leaked that recording to undermine Rep. Ellison’s bid to serve as DNC chairman. The Anti-Defamation League and other anti-Palestinian organizations then used the recording to attack Ellison, harming his campaign for DNC chair.

Again, why was IPT doing all of this? As Brother Tariq said in his statement: “Looking back on those times, it’s now clear to me that Emerson’s main goal in spying on Muslims was to protect the Israeli government; essentially, to ensure there would never be a “Muslim AIPAC” to challenge U.S. support for Israel.”

5. IPT Received Funding from Large Charitable Foundations

This week, CAIR released our new Islamophobia report: “Islamophobia in the Mainstream.” The report, which was produced by our Research & Advocacy Department, shows that mainstream funding for Islamophobic groups has dropped significantly in the years since CAIR released a report exposing this pattern. That’s the good news, alhamdulillah.

Despite this progress, major charitable foundations still donated massive amounts of money to anti-Muslim hate groups. Of the 50 largest charitable foundations reviewed in our report, 35 of them funneled a combined total of $105,865,763 into 26 Islamophobia Network groups, including IPT.

The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (a donor advised fund) gave $67,240 to IPT, according to its 2017 tax return. The Schwab Charitable Fund (another DAF) gave $51,360 to IPT in the same time period. The Jewish Communal Fund (a DAF) gave $82,300 to IPT in 2017. The Abstraction Fund (a private family foundation) gave $55,000 to IPT, according to its 2018 tax form. The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation (a private family foundation) gave $300,000 to IPT in the same year.

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These are just some of the revelations CAIR has uncovered. Alhamdulillah, we thank God for allowing us to successfully disrupt this hate group’s attempt to target our community. But there is still more work to do.

We are in communication with other with Muslim organizations and leaders to discuss how we can come together to hold this hate group, its funders and its allies accountable so that we can ensure this sort of attack on our community never happens again.

As we said last month, the fact that anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian groups are so obsessed with our community is a sign of our community’s importance. These bigots are terrified that Muslims will use our civic engagement, political activism, and legal work to advance justice here and abroad. 

And you know what? They’re right to fear us because that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and it’s exactly what we’re going to keep doing, insha Allah: harnessing our values as Muslims to advance justice in this country and around the world.

Thank you for helping us defend the community and stand up against those who threaten us. We will continue to keep the community updated on new developments, insha Allah. Please contact us if you have any questions.

With thanks,

Your CAIR Team

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