Obama Outlines Surveillance Reforms; Says Mass Surviellance Will Contine

Barack Obama held his first Q&A press conference in over three months yesterday.  In this conference, Mr. Obama touted reforms to the Patriot Act and urged Congress to enact these reforms.  During the hour long press conference, Mr. Obama stated the discourse ignited by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden  was “very passionate but not always fully informed debate.”

While Mr. Obama spoke, his Justice Department released  a White Paper highlighting the federal government’s legal basis for domestic spying.

First reported by Politico, Mr. Obama held a meeting with tech executives the day before.  These including the CEOs of industry heavyweights Apple and AT&T and a leading computer scientist from Google.  Interestingly, though, this meeting was off the public agenda — ironic since Mr. Obama had proclaimed a more transparent process for future surveillance.

White House officials said they will work with Congress to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  These were merely suggestions to lawmakers and laregely a confidence building measure.  The Gallup tracking poll shows he is at a 12-month low of 44% job approval.  This has hindered what was planned to be a robust second term.

Posted in Politics

United Stasi of America

What a HUGE story this is manifesting into.

With an ultra-sensitive leak, 29-year old Edward Snowden has set off a PR frenzy for not only the Obama Administration, but also for America’s closest ally, United Kingdom

Mr. Snowden released a extensive amount of NSA and GCHQ material , via Glen Greenwald of The Guardian. Another famed whistleblower – Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) – says there has not been in American history a more important leak.

The scale and scope of these revelations is unparalleled to any other leak in American history. 

Mr. Greenwald’s initial report focused on US governments monitoring of Verizon’s communications – millions of Americans on a daily basis without it being disclosed to a large majority of Congress, let alone the American citizenry.

Posted in Politics

Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter: Time to move on Mideast peace

By Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter

The Elders: Standing around Nelson Mandela are, from left, his wife, Graca Machel, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Gro Brundtland, Martti Ahtisaari, Ela Bhatt and Lakhdar Brahimi.

For nearly two decades, there have been peace processes in the Middle East but no peace. In recent visits to the region — including Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory — we have heard a consistent message: People want peace but are skeptical about the process and have little faith in the international community to deliver.

There is now an opportunity to reassess the entire approach to the negotiations. The U.S. effort to secure from Israel another partial freeze on settlement-building as a way of resuming direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has failed.

We urge a renewed effort, firmly based in international law and respect for human rights that first aims to define boundaries between Israel and a new Palestinian state and address security issues. Without such focus, we will see the possibility of a two-state solution slipping even further away.

This approach sets challenges for Israelis and Palestinians, for their regional neighbors, for the international community — especially the U.S. government — and for each of us as concerned global citizens.

Applying international law and human rights principles means that the occupation must end, and the focus of negotiations should be on the boundaries of a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders,with its capital in East Jerusalem. Such an accord could entail, if agreed, a one-to-one land swap to allow for minor adjustments. Initial negotiations should also aim at security arrangements in which both Israelis and Palestinians have confidence.

Change is needed

Israeli settlement activity must stop throughout the occupied territories, which include East Jerusalem. These settlements are illegal under international law. So, too, is the inhumane blockade of Gaza. It must be lifted fully except for armaments. The demolition and seizure of Palestinian homes must also end.

In ensuring the rights of all are respected, we call on leaders and citizens to ensure that Israel’s right to exist is not denied. Incitement and calls for the destruction of Israel must not be tolerated.

The upholding of human rights and the rule of law also places demands on the Palestinian authorities of the West Bank and Gaza. They must end all human rights violations against political critics and rivals.

Across the region, we believe that the Arab peace initiative should serve as the basis for normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

It is clear, of course, that Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately agree to a solution, but they cannot do it alone. The international community must help them through fair and robust mediation and by reconfirming prior agreements, United Nations Security Council resolutions, the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all of which are being violated.

Nor can we, as citizens, leave such a vital issue to our governments. Each of us has to keep up pressure on our leaders to show the importance we attach to achieving peace in the Middle East.

As Elders— a group of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to promote peace— we will continue to do all we can to persuade governments around the world to apply a rights-based approach to this terrible conflict and to turn the focus of initial negotiations to border and security issues.

Waiting too long

We have already given our support to non-violent protest and creative civil action for peace. We will continue to do so, both morally and in person whenever we can. This is too important an issue to be left to politicians alone.

Without a strategy that can deliver a peace agreement based on a two-state solution, Palestinians will continue to live under Israeli occupation, millions of Palestinian refugees will continue to live without hope, and Israel’s survival and security remain under threat. If there is no real progress, more violence is the likely outcome.

The world has lived far too long with this conflict. The obstacles to peace are daunting. But one of the advantages of observing public events over many years is that we have seen how apparently irreconcilable divisions can be bridged with courage, commitment and humanity. We desperately need to see these qualities now.

Former president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu are members of The Elders (www.theElders.org).

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in GeoPolitics, History, Israel, Middle East, Op/Ed, Palestinian Territories

Funding illegal Israeli settlements? Priceless.

by Bernard Keane

Visa, Mastercard and PayPal all enable donations to be made to US-registered groups funding illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law.

It appears at least one of the major credit cards also enables donations to an extremist Jewish group that has placed a bounty on the lives of Palestinians.

All three have in the last week ceased enabling donations to WikiLeaks. Neither Mastercard nor Visa have explained the basis for their decision to do so. PayPal has backed away from its initial claim that the US State Department told PayPal WikiLeaks had broken the law after the claim was discredited. This is the third occasion on which PayPal has suspended payment services for WikiLeaks.

Israel subsidises over 100 settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law. Another 100+ are “illegal outposts” even under Israeli law. All benefit from extensive support from the United States, channelled through a range of Jewish and right-wing Christian bodies, all of which have charitable status under US law. The International Crisis Group’s report on settlements in July 2009 identified the important role played by US charities. Israeli newspaper Haaretz has investigated the strong support provided via US charities, and Israeli peace groups have also targeted the generous support provided via private donations from the US and Canada.

Credit card transactional systems play a key role in facilitating this support for illegal settlements. Here are some examples.

  • The Shuva Israel group, an evangelical Christian group based in Texas, is accused by Israeli group Gush Shalom of channelling money to fund the illegal West Bank settlement of Revava. You can donate to it, says the Shuva Israel website, via Mastercard, Visa and Paypal.
  • The One Israel Fund, used as an example in the International Crisis Group report, boasts of being “the largest North American charity whose efforts are dedicated solely to the citizens and communities of Yesha”. You can donate to the One Israel Fund, according to its website, via Mastercard, Visa and Amex.
  • The website of another right-wing Christian group, the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities describes support for settlements like Argaman, which are illegal under international law. You can donate, their website says, via Mastercard, Visa and PayPal.
  • One of the highest-profile groups is the Hebron Fund, the centre of a 2009 row when the New York Mets were criticised for hosting a fundraising dinner for the group. It provides extensive support for the extraordinarily aggressive Hebron settlement, described by one Israeli group as “an ongoing war crime”, while the Fund itself has been linked to praise for an Israeli mass murderer. According to its website, it receives donations via all major credit cards.
  • Worst of all is the extremist SOS Israel group, which has incurred even the wrath of the Israeli Defence Force by rewarding Israeli soldiers who disobey orders to evict settlers from illegal outposts (i.e. inciting mutiny), and which has offered a bounty for Palestinians shot by IDF soldiers. The SOS Israel website describes a number of ways you can make your “generous donation” to it, including credit cards. Crikey’s token $2 donation via a Visa card was successful last night.

At this stage WikiLeaks has breached no international law and no laws of any country, but Mastercard, Visa and PayPal have all blacklisted it. All three continue to enable the support of settlements that are in breach of international law, in some cases of Israeli law, and in defiance of US policy on settlements under successive Republican and Democrat administrations.

Crikey invited Visa, Paypal and Mastercard to comment but none had responded by deadline.

\\CRIKEY

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Israel, Oppression, Palestinian Territories, US - Israel relations, US Foreign Policy

WikiLeaks cables: India accused of systematic use of torture in Kashmir

Beatings and electric shocks inflicted on hundreds of civilians detained in Kashmir, US diplomats in Delhi told by ICR

Unrest in Kashmir, where a leaked cable said the Indian government 'condoned torture'. Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables released tonight.

The dispatches, obtained by website WikiLeaks, reveal that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees.

Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.

The revelations will be intensely embarrassing for Delhi, which takes pride in its status as the world’s biggest democracy, and come at a time of heightened sensitivity in Kashmir after renewed protests and violence this year.

Other cables released tonight reveal that:

• The Dalai Lama has told US officials that combating climate change is more urgent than finding a political solution in Tibet, which “can wait five to 10 years”.

• Rahul Gandhi, the crown prince of Indian politics, believes Hindu extremists pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants, according to the American ambassador to India.

• Five doctors were coerced by the Sri Lankan government to recant oncasualty figures they gave to journalists in the last months of island’s brutal civil war.

The most highly charged dispatch is likely to be an April 2005 cable from the US embassy in Delhi which reports that the ICRC had become frustrated with the Indian government which, they said, had not acted to halt the “continued ill-treatment of detainees”.

The embassy reported the ICRC concluded that India “condones torture” and that the torture victims were civilians as militants were routinely killed.

The ICRC has a long-standing policy of engaging directly with governments and avoiding the media, so the briefing remained secret.

An insurgency pitting separatist and Islamist militants – many supported by Pakistan – against security services raged in Kashmir throughout the 1990s and into the early years of this decade.

It claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians who were targeted by both militants and security forces.

The ICRC staff told the US diplomats they had made 177 visits to detention centres in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India between 2002 and 2004, and had met 1,491 detainees. They had been able to interview 1,296 privately.

In 852 cases, the detainees reported ill-treatment, the ICRC said. A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture.

These included 498 on which electricity had been used, 381 who had been suspended from the ceiling, 294 who had muscles crushed in their legs by prison personnel sitting on a bar placed across their thighs, 181 whose legs had been stretched by being “split 180 degrees”, 234 tortured with water and 302 “sexual” cases, the ICRC were reported to have told the Americans.

“Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT [ill-treatment],” the cable said.

The ICRC said all branches of the Indian security forces used these forms of ill-treatment and torture, adding: “The abuse always takes place in the presence of officers and … detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed), but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency”.

The cable said the situation in Kashmir was “much better” as security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately, and there was “more openness from medical doctors and the police.”

Ten years ago, the ICRC said there were some 300 detention centres, but there are now “a lot fewer”. The organisation had never however gained access to the “Cargo Building”, the most notorious detention centre, in Srinagar.

The abuse continued, they said, because “security forces need promotions,” while for militants, “the insurgency has become a business”.

In the same cable, American diplomats approvingly quoted media reports that India’s army chief, Lieutenant-General Joginder Jaswant Singh, had “put human rights issues at the centre of an [recent] conference of army commanders”.

The ICRC said a “bright spot” was that it had been able to conduct 300 sessions sensitising junior officers from the security forces to human rights.

The cables reveal a careful US policy of pressure in Kashmir, while maintaining a strictly neutral stance.

Two years after the cable on torture was sent, US diplomats in India argued strongly against granting a visa request from the government of India on behalf of a member of the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly who was invited to a conference organised by a think-tank in America.

Usman Abdul Majid, a cable marked secret said, “is a leader of the pro-GOI [government of India] Ikhwan-ul-Musilmeen paramilitary group, which … is notorious for its use of torture, extra-judicial killing, rape, and extortion of Kashmiri civilians suspected of harbouring or facilitating terrorists.”

The diplomats admitted that denying Majid’s application might have some repercussions with Indian officials, “especially those from India’s Intelligence Bureau who have been close to his case” but said it was essential to preserve a balanced approach to the Kashmir issue following the prior refusal of a visa to the leading separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The cable notes that officials are “unable to verify with evidence the claims against Majid”.

US diplomats repeatedly refer to human rights abuses by security and law enforcement agencies within India. In a cable from February 2006, officials reported that “terrorism investigations and court cases tend to rely upon confessions, many of which are obtained under duress if not beatings, threats, or, in some cases, torture”.

A year later a brief for the visiting acting coordinator for counter-terrorism, Frank Urbancic, described India’s police and security forces as“overworked and hampered by bad … practices, including the widespread use of torture in interrogations.”.

\\GUARDIAN

 

 

 

Tagged with:
Posted in India, Kashmir

Ron Paul, G.O.P. Loner, Comes In From Cold

Jim Cole/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’s disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Representative Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”

For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “Al Qaeda’s favorite member of Congress.”

It was hardly the first time that Mr. Paul had marched to his own beat. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was best remembered for declaring in a debate that the 9/11 attacks were the Muslim world’s response to American military intervention around the globe. A fellow candidate, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, interrupted and demanded that he take back the words — a request that Mr. Paul refused.

During his 20 years in Congress, Mr. Paul has staked out the lonely end of 434-to-1 votes against legislation that he considers unconstitutional, even on issues as ceremonial as granting Mother Teresa a Congressional Gold Medal. His colleagues have dubbed him “Dr. No,” but his wife will insist that they have the spelling wrong: he is really Dr. Know.

Now it appears others are beginning to credit him with some wisdom — or at least acknowledging his passionate following.

After years of blocking him from a leadership position, Mr. Paul’s fellow Republicans have named him chairman of the House subcommittee on domestic monetary policy, which oversees the Federal Reserve as well as the currency and the valuation of the dollar.

Mr. Paul has strong views on those issues. He has written a book called “End the Fed”; he embraces Austrian economic thought, which holds that the government has no role in regulating the economy; and he advocates a return to the gold standard.

Many of the new Republicans in the next Congress campaigned on precisely the issues that Mr. Paul has been talking about for 40 years: forbidding Congress from any action not explicitly authorized in the Constitution, eliminating entire federal departments as unconstitutional and checking the power of the Fed.

He has been called the “intellectual godfather of the Tea Party,” but he also is the real father of the Tea Party movement’s most high-profile winner, Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky. (The two will be roommates in Ron Paul’s Virginia condominium. “I told him as long as he didn’t expect me to cook,” the elder Mr. Paul said. “I’m not going to take care of him the way his mother did.”)

Republicans had blocked Mr. Paul from leading the monetary policy panel once before, and banking executives reportedly urged them to do so again. But Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly recognize that Mr. Paul has a following — among his supporters from 2008 and within the Tea Party, which helped the Republicans recapture the House majority by picking up Mr. Paul’s longstanding and highly vocal opposition to the federal debt.

Aides, supporters and television interviewers now use words like “vindicated” to describe him — a term Mr. Paul, a 75-year-old obstetrician with the manner of a country doctor, brushes off.

“I don’t think it’s very personal,” he said in an interview in his office on the Hill, where he has represented the 14th District of Texas on and off since 1976. “People are really worried about what’s happening, so they’re searching, and I think they see that we’ve been offering answers.”

If there is vindication here, Mr. Paul says, it is for Austrian economic theory — an anti-Keynesian model that many mainstream economists consider radical and dismiss as magical thinking.

The theory argues that markets operate properly only when they are unfettered by government regulation and intervention. It holds that the government should not have a central bank or dictate economic or monetary policy. Once the government begins any economic planning, such thinking goes, it ends up making all the economic decisions for its citizens, essentially enslaving them.

The walls of Mr. Paul’s Congressional office are devoid of the usual pictures with presidents and other dignitaries. Instead, there are portraits of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, titans of the Austrian school. For years, Mr. Paul would talk about their ideas and eyes would glaze over. But during his presidential campaign, he said he began to notice a glimmer of recognition among those who attended his events, particularly on college campuses.

Mr. Paul now views his exchange with Mr. Giuliani in 2008 as a crucial moment in his drive for more supporters. “A lot of them said, ‘I’d never heard of you, and I liked what you said and I went and checked your voting record and you’d actually voted that way,’ ” he said. “They’d see that the thing that everybody on the House floor considered a liability for 20 years, my single ‘no’ votes, they’d say, ‘He did that himself; he really must believe this.’ ”

His campaign that year attracted a coalition that even he recognizes does not always stand together: young people who liked his advocacy of greater civil liberties and the decriminalization of marijuana; conservatives who nodded at his antidebt message; and others who agreed with his opposition to the Iraq war.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, he was out of favor with the reigning neoconservatives who were alarmed at his anti-interventionism. He still gives many conservatives fits with comments like his praise for WikiLeaks.

Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch, via Associated PressAnd many of those who follow the Fed closely say his ideas are “very strange indeed,” in the words of Lyle E. Gramley, a former governor of the Fed who is now a senior economic adviser at the Potomac Research Group. “I don’t think he understands what central banking is all about,” Mr. Gramley said.

Putting such a critic of the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, in such a prominent role, he added, could damage economic confidence.

“The public doesn’t understand how serious the problem was and why the Fed had to take the action it did,” Mr. Gramley said. “Having someone in Congress taking shots at the Fed makes the situation uneasy.”

Still, Mr. Paul says, his colleagues respect his following outside Washington. “I was on the House floor today,” he said, “and somebody I don’t know real well, another Republican, he was talking to two other members, and he knew I was listening. He pointed at me and said, ‘That guy has more bumper stickers in my district than I do!’ ”

Interview requests are so common that Mr. Paul has set up a camera and studio backdrop in his district office to save him the hour’s drive to television stations in Houston.

His bill demanding a full audit of the Fed, which he had unsuccessfully pushed for years, attracted 320 co-sponsors in the House this year.

And the lunches that he has held in his office every Thursday, where lawmakers can meet intellectuals and policymakers who embrace Austrian economics, have become more crowded, drawing Tea Party celebrities like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

“For a long time, a lot of people in Congress on both sides of the aisle agreed with Ron a lot of the time but felt it wasn’t safe to go there,” said Jesse Benton, a longtime Ron Paul aide who ran Rand Paul’s Senate campaign.

The father is about to gain even greater visibility. He says he will use his new chairmanship to renew his push for a full audit of the Fed and to hold a series of hearings on monetary policy.

On Web sites for Ron Paul fans, there are urgent pleas for a father-son (or son-father) “Paul/Paul 2012” ticket. But in an interview, the senior Mr. Paul seemed taken by surprise by the suggestion of teaming up. While he is bursting-proud of his son, he is not necessarily ready to yield the spotlight: He is pondering another presidential run on his own.

“I’d say it’s at least 50-50 that I’ll run again,” he said, adding that he would look at where the economy is. (Aides add that it would depend a lot on what his wife, Carol, says.)

But for all the ways the Tea Party echoes Mr. Paul on fiscal issues, it is not clear such support would carry over into a presidential campaign. The last time he ran, he won less than 2 percent of the vote, though that was before the Tea Party became a force in politics.

Even many Tea Party conservatives are not on board with Mr. Paul’s beliefs about scaling back the United States military worldwide. And Paul supporters look on the Tea Party with some disdain.

Mr. Paul acknowledged the sometimes competing interests among Tea Party supporters and his fans. “What brings them together is this acceptance that there’s something really wrong, that we’ve spent too much money and government’s too big,” he said.

That, he added, was why he had to work at keeping up his influence, particularly in spreading the word about the cost of foreign interventions.

Still, he noted: “We’re further along than I would have expected in getting our message out in front. I thought I’d be long gone from Congress before anybody would pay much attention.”

\\NEW YORK TIMES

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Federal government, Republicans, US Foreign Policy

FBI plants informant to incite terrorism in a mosque. Muslims are horrified by his jihad talk and… report him to the FBI.

Tension grows between Calif. Muslims, FBI after informant infiltrates mosque

By Jerry Markon

IRVINE, CALIF. – Before the sun rose, the informant donned a white Islamic robe. A tiny camera was sewn into a button, and a microphone was buried in a device attached to his keys.

“This is Farouk al-Aziz, code name Oracle,” he said into the keys as he sat in his parked car in this quiet community south of Los Angeles. “It’s November 13th, 4:30 a.m. And we’re hot.”

The undercover FBI informant – a convicted forger named Craig Monteilh – then drove off for 5 a.m. prayers at the Islamic Center of Irvine, where he says he spied on dozens of worshipers in a quest for potential terrorists.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI has used informants successfully as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States. Agency officials say they are careful not to violate civil liberties and do not target Muslims.

But the FBI’s approach has come under fire from some Muslims, criticism that surfaced again late last month after agents arrested an Oregon man they said tried to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. FBI technicians had supplied the device.

In the Irvine case, Monteilh’s mission as an informant backfired. Muslims were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad that they obtained a restraining order against him.

He had helped build a terrorism-related case against a mosque member, but that also collapsed. The Justice Department recently took the extraordinary step of dropping charges against the worshiper, who Monteilh had caught on tape agreeing to blow up buildings, law enforcement officials said. Prosecutors had portrayed the man as a dire threat.

Compounding the damage, Monteilh has gone public, revealing secret FBI methods and charging that his “handlers” trained him to entrap Muslims as he infiltrated their mosques, homes and businesses. He is now suing the FBI.

Officials declined to comment on specific details of Monteilh’s tale but confirm that he was a paid FBI informant. Court records and interviews corroborate not only that Monteilh worked for the FBI – he says he made $177,000, tax-free, in 15 months – but that he provided vital information on a number of cases.

Some Muslims in Southern California and nationally say the cascading revelations have seriously damaged their relationship with the FBI, a partnership that both sides agree is critical to preventing attacks and homegrown terrorism.

Citing Monteilh’s actions and what they call a pattern of FBI surveillance, many leading national Muslim organizations have virtually suspended contact with the bureau.

“The community feels betrayed,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella group of more than 75 mosques.

“They got a guy, a bona fide criminal, and obviously trained him and sent him to infiltrate mosques,” Syed said. “And when things went sour, they ditched him and he got mad. It’s like a soap opera, for God’s sake.”

FBI and Justice Department officials say that the Monteilh case is not representative of their relations with the Muslim community and that they continue to work closely with Muslims in investigating violence and other hate crimes against them. Officials also credit U.S. Muslims with reporting critical information in a variety of counterterrorism cases.

The bureau “relies on the support, cooperation and trust of the communities it serves and protects,” FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said, adding that agents conduct investigations “under well-defined investigative guidelines and the law, and in close coordination with the Department of Justice.”

Officials said they have gone to great lengths to maintain good relationships with Muslims, including meetings hosted by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Last week, FBI officials met to discuss law enforcement and other issues with predominantly Muslim Somali community members in San Diego and Minneapolis.

Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, declined to comment on Monteilh, citing Monteilh’s lawsuit. He said that in certain circumstances, if there is evidence of a crime, FBI agents may “conduct an activity that might somehow involve surveillance in and about a mosque.”

But he said the agency does not target people based on religion or ethnicity.

“I know there’s a lot of suspicion that that’s the focus, that we’re looking at the mosques, monitoring who is coming and going. That’s just not the case,” he said.

The ‘chameleon’

Monteilh’s career as an informant began in 2003. Like many other informants, he was familiar with the inside of a prison cell. He had just finished a sentence for forging bank notes when local police officers he met at a gym asked him to infiltrate drug gangs and white supremacist groups for a federal-state task force.

“It was very exciting,” Monteilh said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had the ability to be a chameleon.”

Monteilh, who stands over 6 feet tall and weighs 260 pounds, had worked as a prison chaplain before he was incarcerated. Married with three children, the Los Angeles native said that after he became an informant, an FBI agent on the task force sought him out. Law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about informants, said Monteilh was promoted from drug and bank robbery cases because his information was reliable and had led to convictions.

In early 2006, Monteilh said, he met with his FBI handler at a Starbucks.

“She asked if I wanted to infiltrate mosques,” he said. At a follow-up session at a doughnut shop, he said, his new handler told him that “Islam is a threat to our national security.”

Law enforcement sources said that the FBI trained Monteilh and that he aided an existing investigation. Monteilh, however, said he was ordered to randomly surveil and spy on Muslims to ferret out potential terrorists. Agents, he said, provided his cover: Farouk al-Aziz, a French Syrian in search of his Islamic roots. His code name was “Oracle.”

Monteilh said he was instructed to infiltrate mosques throughout Orange and two neighboring counties in Southern California, where the Muslim population of nearly 500,000 is the nation’s largest. He was told to target the Islamic Center of Irvine, he said, because it was near his home.

FBI tactics were already a sensitive issue at the Irvine mosque, a stucco, two-story building that draws as many as 2,000 people for Friday prayers. With tensions rising between law enforcement and Muslims over allegations of FBI surveillance, J. Stephen Tidwell, then head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, spoke at the mosque in June 2006.

“If we’re going to mosques to come to services, we will tell you,” he said, according to a video of his speech. “. . . The FBI will tell you we’re coming for the very reason that we don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.”

Two months later, in August 2006, Monteilh arrived at the same mosque. He had called earlier and met with the imam. That Friday, he took shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, before hundreds of worshipers.

Worshipers said that in Monteilh’s 10 months at the mosque, he became almost manic in his devotion, attending prayers five times a day and waiting in the parking lot before the 5 a.m. prayer. Monteilh said he was told by the FBI to take notes on who opened the mosque each day.

Worshipers said his Western clothes gave way to an Islamic robe, a white skullcap and sandals, an outfit Monteilh said was chosen by his handlers. As he grew closer to Muslims, he said, the FBI told him to date Muslim women if it gained him intelligence.

Worshipers noticed that Monteilh often left his keys around the mosque, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who speaks often at the mosque.

“It seemed strange to people,” Ayloush said.

Inside the car remote on the bundle of keys was a microphone that recorded Muslims at the mosque, in their homes and at a local gym. Monteilh, who told people he was a fitness trainer, used the gym to seek out Muslim men.

“We started hearing that he was saying weird things,” said Omar Kurdi, a Loyola Law School student who knew Monteilh from the mosque and gym. “He would walk up to one of my friends and say, ‘It’s good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad.”

Worshipers said Monteilh gravitated to Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, an Afghan-born Arabic-language instructor who was a regular at Friday prayers.

In May 2007, Monteilh said he recorded a conversation about jihad during a car ride with Niazi and another man. Monteilh said he suggested an operation to blow up buildings and Niazi agreed. An FBI agent later cited that and other taped conversations between the two in court as evidence that Niazi was a threat.

A few days later, Ayloush got an anguished phone call from Niazi and the other man in the car.

“They said Farouk had told them he had access to weapons and that they should blow up a mall,” Ayloush recalled. “They were convinced this man was a terrorist.”

Ayloush reported the FBI’s own informant to the FBI. He said agents interviewed Niazi, who gave them the same account, but the agency took no action against Monteilh.

Still, Monteilh’s mission was collapsing. Members of the mosque told its leaders that they were afraid of Monteilh and that he was “trying to entrap them into a mission,” according to Asim Khan, the former mosque president. The mosque went to Orange County Superior Court in June 2007 and obtained a restraining order against Monteilh, court records show.

Soon afterward, Monteilh said FBI agents “told me they wanted to cut me loose.” After he vowed to go public, he said, he met with three agents at the Anaheim Hilton, where an FBI supervisor threatened him with arrest.

“She said, ‘If you reveal your informant status to the media, it will destroy the Muslim community’s relationship with the FBI forever.” Monteilh said.

The FBI declined to comment on Monteilh’s allegation.

At a subsequent meeting, Monteilh said, he signed a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for $25,000 in cash. An FBI letter to Monteilh’s attorney, on file in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, says Monteilh signed the non-disclosure agreement in October 2007.

But Monteilh was arrested in December 2007 on a grand-theft charge and ended up back in jail for 16 months. In January, he sued the FBI, alleging that the bureau and Irvine police conspired to have him arrested, then allowed his informant status to become known in prison, where he was stabbed.

The FBI and police have denied the allegations, and the lawsuit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. But the judge allowed Monteilh to file an amended complaint, with similar allegations, in September. The case is pending.

A case unravels

In the meantime, the case against Niazi unfolded. He was indicted in February 2009 by a federal grand jury on charges of lying about his ties to terrorists on immigration documents. In court, prosecutors said that jihadist materials were found on Niazi’s computer and that he had wired money to an alleged al-Qaeda financier. Prosecutors said he is the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s security coordinator. Much of the evidence was FBI testimony about Niazi’s recorded conversations with an FBI informant, who sources say was Monteilh.

“Frankly, there is no amount of bail or equity in a home that can protect the citizens of this community” from Niazi, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot said in arguing for his detention.

Within days of Niazi’s indictment, Monteilh revealed his informant status in a series of interviews with Los Angeles area media.

“I think the FBI treated me with the utmost treachery,” he said in the interview with The Post.

In subsequent months, Monteilh sought out Niazi’s attorneys and told them he was ordered to entrap their client.

A year and a half later, on Sept. 30, prosecutors summarily moved to dismiss the case against Niazi, and a judge agreed. The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles cited the lack of an overseas witness and “evidentiary issues.” Sources familiar with the decision said Monteilh’s role – and his potential testimony for the defense – was also a factor.

Niazi declined to comment. His attorney Chase Scolnick said he is “very pleased with the outcome. It is a just result.”

In recent weeks, Monteilh said, he has been approaching Muslims at a local gym and apologizing for “disrespecting their community and religion.” Monteilh, who is now unemployed, says he regrets his role in the Niazi case and was glad when the charges were dropped.

On a recent Friday, more than 200 men sat on the carpet for prayers inside the Irvine mosque, most of them in khakis or jeans. During the sermon, the imam offered some advice.

“If an FBI agent comes in and says, ‘You’re under arrest,’â??” he told the crowd, they should pray to Allah – and then call a lawyer.

As worshipers milled around outside, they said they support the FBI’s role in fighting terrorism but feel betrayed by the infiltration of their sacred place.

“The FBI wants to treat the Muslim community as a partner while investigating us behind our backs,” said Kurdi, the Loyola student. “They can’t have it both ways.”

\\WASHINGTON POST

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Politics

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Clustrmaps
Stats (July 2006-)
  • 142,773 unique hits
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 325 other followers