Domestic surveillance: Santa doesn’t watch Muslims, but the FBI does

I’m making a list- guess who’s on it?

As the popular Christmas carol about Santa Claus goes, “He knows when you are sleeping/He knows when you’re awake/He knows when you’ve been bad or good/So be good for goodness sake.” However, since Santa apparently doesn’t watch Muslim homes, the FBI decided to fill in for him. Following last week’s revelations that the Bush administration approved of warrantless tapping of phone conversations made by US citizens, the FBI and US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) have confirmed that it conducted hundreds of warrantless searches at US Muslim sites (mosques, homes, businesses, etc.) over the last few years. While most searches were performed with radiation detection equipment from publically-accessible streets in front of sites, many required trespassing on private property in order to get clear readings (“If a delivery man can access it, so can we,” explained one participant). “The targets were almost all US citizens,” says one source close to the program. “A lot of us thought it was questionable, but people who complained nearly lost their jobs.” While nearly all the targets were Muslim sites, the FBI denied any group based on ethnicity, political or religious belief. “When intelligence information suggests that there may be a threat to public safety, particularly involving weapons of mass destruction,” explained Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse, “FBI investigators will go wherever the intelligence information takes them.” (And since the hundreds of searches have turned up nothing, this WMD intelligence is just as effective as the last time.) Parallels are being drawn to a 2001 Supreme Court decision (US vs. Kyllo) that ruled that invasing sensing equipment (in that case, thermal imaging technology) violated the Fourth Amendment’s clause against unreasonable search and seizure. “The issue isn’t where they are, but whether they’re using a tactic to intrude on privacy,” explains Georgetown University constitutional law professor David Cole. At its peak, the program monitored up to 120 sites daily in major metropolitan areas, and law enforcement officials confirmed that monitoring continues to this day. “It was all intelligence-driven,” said one US counterterrorism official in defense of the program. Which, of course, begs the question: How safe can we be with “intelligence” that fingers hundreds of Muslim homes and businesses without turning up anything suspicious?

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of

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