Ever since Islamic groups cried out against the FBI’s semi-successful surveillance into terrorist plots that emanated from mosques, the agency has been forced to turn its attention elsewhere in the ongoing campaign to uncover domestic terrorism.
In February 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined the Council for American-Islamic Relations of Greater Los Angeles in filing a Federal class-action lawsuit against the FBI for infiltrating mosques in Southern California and allegedly gathering general information without probable cause.
Regardless of the merits of that suit, the backlash over the Southern California case had a subversive effect on Federal domestic surveillance policy. Later that same year, the Administration of President Barack Obama established a review panel within the Department of Justice called the Sensitive Operations Review Committee, effectively carving out special treatment for the religious, political, journalistic and academic spheres:
A sensitive investigative matter (SIM) is defined as an investigative matter involving the activities of a domestic public official or domestic political candidate (involving corruption or a threat to the national security), a religious or domestic political organization or individual prominent in such an organization, or the news media; an investigative matter having an academic nexus; or any other matter which, in the judgment of the official authorizing the investigation, should be brought to the attention of FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ) and other DOJ officials. (Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations (AGG-I Dom), Part VILN.) As a matter of FBI policy, “judgment” means that the decision of the authorizing official is discretionary.
Whether the FBI should be indiscriminately watching any individual or affiliated group is a matter for a separate article (indeed, we’ve written several of them), and recent scandals showing that the Nation’s vast enforcement empire is doing just that are both loathsome and alarming. But if Obama is going to watch most of us, it’s only fair (and makes a fair amount of sense) that he watch all of us.
The Tsarnaev brothers had ties to a Boston-area mosque that itself was linked to an assassination plot against a Saudi prince, teaches jihad against Zionists and Jews, and encourages the upheaval of Western values and institutions.
Even so, it was the mosque, and not the FBI, that revealed what it knew about the Tsarnaevs four days after the marathon bombing. Under the new Sensitive Operations Review guidelines, the FBI had been looking everywhere but mosques for Islamic terrorists. Regardless of whether this particular mosque did or didn’t help “radicalize” the Boston bombers, law enforcement would have had no way to investigate — until after innocent people were already dead.