Skip to comments.FBI keeping an eye on Dallas-area Iraqis - some fear abuses; others happy to help
Posted on 12/15/2002 2:37:35 AM PST by MeekOneGOP
FBI keeping an eye on Dallas-area Iraqis
For some, agents' visits raise fears of abuses; others happy to help
Hadi Jawad, an American citizen of Iraqi descent, takes pride in his strong pacifist ideals and links to various Dallas peace groups that have been demonstrating against possible war in Iraq.
But last week, he wasn't sure if it was his heritage or anti-war activities that put him on the FBI's radar screen. Two FBI agents last week visited with Mr. Jawad for two hours at the offices of the Dallas Peace Center - a conversation he said seemed intended to recruit him as an informant.
The visit by the agents, whom he described as polite, well-spoken and almost apologetic, disturbed Mr. Jawad.
"It reminds me of what was done to the Chinese community during the Korean War and the Japanese during the second war," Mr. Jawad said, referring to controversial government surveillance programs that led to detentions and later targeted anti-war activists in the 1960s. "It's spooky in that sense. I was spooked to hear the same justifications and dogma."
Dallas FBI officials say that agents have begun making contacts among hundreds of Iraqis living in North Texas. It's part of a new nationwide domestic intelligence-gathering effort to recruit informants and identify saboteurs working for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Several Iraqi immigrants living in North Texas say that FBI agents contacted them and requested information about suspicious activities or affiliations of associates, taking notes and carefully observing their living arrangements.
The new monitoring program could include wiretaps and other forms of surveillance if deemed appropriate, as well as detention if authorities believe laws may have been broken, FBI officials in Washington say.
Because of its low cost of living and job opportunities, Dallas was one of several large American cities designated as resettlement areas for Iraqi and Kurdish nationals fleeing repression in the years after the 1991 Gulf War. Between 1,500 and 3,000 Iraqis and Kurds remain in the area, resettlement experts estimate.
Dallas FBI Special Agent in Charge Lupe Gonzalez declined to describe the extent of the local effort or say what types of surveillance may have been ordered. But, he said, his agents aim to be as noninvasive as possible while seeking strictly voluntary cooperation from those contacted.
"It's incumbent on us to be able to have intelligence in those communities," Agent Gonzalez said. "We have to have our agents out there, to thwart terrorism wherever it comes from."
Some civil libertarians say they find the new contact program disturbing because it targets one segment of a community and could lead to abuses similar to those in the past. The Enemy Aliens Act, which allows presidents to order the detention of foreign nationals considered suspect during times of war, was used to intern more than 70,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II following a similar tracking program that also included Germans and Italians.
David Cole, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, said the FBI is within its rights to contact, identify and track Iraqis living in the country - and probably should. But once war breaks out, history shows that the prospects for civil rights abuses intensify, he said.
"Gathering information by talking to people doesn't bother me," Dr. Cole said. "The real question is, how will it be used? The record shows the government is not particularly good at determining who poses a threat."
The FBI intelligence program targeting Iraqis living in the United States is similar to one authorized in 1990 before the Gulf War. Civil libertarians also criticized that program.
Former FBI Associate Deputy Director Buck Revell, who authorized the 1990-91 program, said it yielded intelligence that helped thwart several terrorist attacks.
"This was not a program to identify people for detention at all. That was not the purpose of it, and certainly that did not occur," said Mr. Revell, who lives in Dallas. "Essentially what you're trying to do is create a neighborhood watch. They may have information about others in the community who have a different attitude toward Saddam."
Some Iraqis living in Dallas say they would be happy to be monitored by the FBI, covertly or otherwise. Immigrants who live here are mostly from two groups - rebellious Iraqi Shiite Muslims from southern Iraq and Kurds from the north.
Many are in the United States because Mr. Hussein used his military and secret services to violently repress both groups throughout the 1990s. About a dozen Dallas-area Iraqis interviewed in recent weeks said they are part of a tight-knit community in which everyone knows everyone too well for a saboteur to exist unnoticed.
Most told tales of murdered family members and torture they survived at the hands of Iraqi secret police.
"We're not like the Japanese," said Hashim Alkinani, a Shiite Muslim who emigrated from Iraq to Dallas in 1994. "Saddam killed my father. He destroyed my state. We have broken with Saddam. We wish the FBI can hear what we're saying all day long because they'll hear only that we want to kick Saddam Hussein out."
Several Iraqis who have been interviewed by the FBI in recent months described the encounters as polite and nonthreatening.
"He said he did not mean to accuse me or anything, but if you know anything or anyone illegal or with ties to terrorism to let him know," said Mohammed Alsultani, an Iraqi who came to Dallas in 1994. "To be honest, it didn't bother me at all."
But Mr. Jawad, the Dallas Peace Center board member approached by FBI agents last week and who has lived in the United States for 30 years, said the need for FBI interviews is not so clear-cut.
"It's a given that if I see someone about to commit a crime that I would report him," Mr. Jawad said. "No one has to come and tell me to do that. That's my duty as a citizen to report subversive activities."
Osama bin Laden phoned President George W. Bush. "I had a dream about the United States," he said. "I could see the whole country, and over every building and home was a banner," said bin Laden.
"What was on the banner?" asked President Bush.
"LONG LIVE OSAMA!" answered the terrorist scum.
"I am so glad that you called," said President Bush, "because I too had a dream. In my dream, I saw Afghanistan and it was more beautiful than ever; totally rebuilt, and over every building and home was a big, beautiful banner."
"What did the banner say?" asked Osama.
"I don't know," answered President Bush, "I can't read Hebrew."
Oh gosh, I thought I'd split my sides laughing!!