Mosques Will Not Get Day in Court to Contest U.S. Spying

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A federal judge, likening himself to a fictional Greek hero who must save all those around him at the expense of a few, elected to toss out a civil liberties case brought by California mosques that alleged the U.S. illegally spied on them.

“Odysseus opted to pass by the monster and risk a few of his individual sailors, rather than hazard the loss of his entire ship to the sucking whirlpool,” U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney wrote in his apologetic ruling. “Similarly, the proper application of the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security.”

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, alleged that the FBI sent an undercover informant into several Orange County mosques as part of Operation Flex and may have collected information on hundreds of people in 2006 and 2007.  

The FBI admitted that it used the informant, but demanded that the case be tossed for national security reasons. Plaintiffs said they planned to appeal the ruling.

The FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, went public with his activities and cooperated with the ACLU in its suit. Monteilh said the FBI did not have any specific targets at the mosques and just sent him in with instructions to blend in with the community, gather information and record activities with audio and video equipment.

Monteilh―white, six foot two, with a bodybuilder’s physique―came into public view after he was accused by unsuspecting mosque members of trying to get them to launch a fake terrorist operation. An investigation by Mother Jones in 2011 reported that fake terror plots and use of the state secrets act were key components of FBI counterterrorism operations, and that almost all high-profile domestic terror plots in the last decade were actually FBI stings.

The FBI responded by saying it was targeting around 25 specific individuals and, in documents made only available to the judge, expressed other concerns that the judge said he found compelling.

Although Judge Carney let the U.S. government off the hook, he still allowed a suit to move forward against five individual FBI agents who performed surveillance on the mosques.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Judge Tosses Lawsuit over FBI Surveillance of California Mosques (by Dan Whitcomb, Reuters)

Federal Judge Throws out Lawsuit over Spying on O.C. Muslims (by Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times)

FBI Sting Lawsuit Blocked by "State Secrets" Doctrine (by Adam Serwer, Mother Jones)

Operation Flex: The Most Incompetent FBI Sting Ever? (by Tom Costello, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

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