Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Texas Fusion Center Casts Wide Net

The North Central Texas Fusion Center (NCTFC) recently issued a Prevention Awareness Bulletin alerting law enforcement to beware of "significant" threats posed by a Muslim civil rights group, the antiwar organization ANSWER, and International Action Center.  When an intelligence fusion center puts forward analysis based on right-wing Web sites prone to conspiracy-mongering, it raises questions about who is watching the watchers.  But this fusion center is not alone in drumming up fears of a massive homegrown threat; some federal officials are beating a similar drum.

Like America's seventy other fusion centers, the North Texas facility regularly disseminates bulletins to thousands of state police, fire, public health, and emergency-preparedness personnel.  Rather than provide serious insight that might contribute to public safety, this February bulletin weaves a web of conspiratorial parallels between Muslim civil liberties groups, lobbyists, peace activists, hip hop bands and fashion boutiques, social networking sites, a former congresswoman, and the U.S. Treasury Department.  In an article entitled "Middle Eastern Terrorist groups and their supporting organizations have been successful in gaining support for Islamic goals in the U.S.," the bulletin spins religious accommodations for Muslims as creating an environment for terrorist organizations to flourish.  The Texas Observer said that the bulletin had a "Keystone Kops" ring to it, but this demagoguery has serious consequences.

Such fear-mongering threatens civil liberties and serves the development of a far-reaching political intelligence state.  The North Central Texas bulletin cites articles by the author of Stealth Jihad:  How Radical Islam is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam.  It spreads a right-wing ideology which posits that groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are a front group for foreign-based radicals and indigenous subversives, in the same way that the Red Scare argued that Communist Party USA members belonged to a Soviet-controlled conspiracy.  Under such thinking, activists and allies who share common cause with American Arabs and Muslims in opposing Israeli aggression in Gaza or war in Iraq and Afghanistan are painted with the same brush.

Unfortunately, America's security establishment already buys into this logic.  In February, FBI director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI would no longer engage with CAIR, the largest Muslim-American civil rights organization.  The Department of Homeland Security severed ties with CAIR last year.  The FBI withdrew its outreach relations with CAIR and all its chapters due to concerns that CAIR leadership is tied to the Palestinian group Hamas.  One founder of CAIR was named as an unindicted coconspirator in a terrorist financing case last year.  A member of a Virginia-based "jihad" organizing effort worked as a communications director for a local CAIR chapter.

Rather than see these incidents as isolated criminal episodes, the government is suspecting Muslims -- at least those aligned with CAIR -- in a classic case of guilt by association.  In cutting ties with CAIR, the FBI risks undoing years of meaningful work with a legitimate community organization and vital links to the American Muslim community.  Until the recent ban, CAIR provided sensitivity training for FBI agents and was used as a liaison with the community.  Presumably, such links would be useful in developing trust and cooperation in law enforcement.

President Obama called for a renewed relationship with Muslims in Iran last week, while his administration appears to be distancing itself from Muslims at home.  While the North Texas Fusion Center's advisory seems extreme, recent reports that the FBI is planting informants in Orange County mosques remind us that the government is already spying on a wide spectrum of innocent Americans.  

(click here for a podcast of radio story on FBI surveillance of Muslims in California on KUCI)

"I can't run no more
 with that lawless crowd
 while the killers in high places
 say their prayers out loud.
 But they've summoned, they've summoned up
 a thundercloud
 and they're going to hear from me . . . .

 Ring the bells that still can ring
 Forget your perfect offering
 There is a crack, a crack in everything
 That's how the light gets in."
                           - Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"