"Watching back" campaign
...a Campaign to Hold the FBI Accountable for the Unwarranted Surveillance of American-Muslims...
As early as 1989, the FBI field office in Chicago began investigating American Muslim organizations, business and individuals in Chicago’s southwest-suburbs, as well as national American Muslim organizations across the country, as part of a sweeping nationwide terrorist money laundering probe. According to 900 pages of declassified documents previously released by the FBI, more than 33 mosques, 25 Islamic non-profits, 15 university Muslim Student Associations, and 4 elementary schools are listed by name in these documents. The investigation, code-named “Operation Vulgar Betrayal,” was the largest domestic terrorism investigation conducted before 9/11. In Chicago’s southwest suburbs, the main target of this investigation, not a single person was ever convicted of any crime related to terrorism. Yet to date, the domestic “War on Terror,” which started long before 9/11 and targeted thousands of law-abiding Muslim Americans across the country, is perceived by the government as a shining success, even though it never actually resulted in preventing an act of terrorism. The harm these decades-long investigations have had is profound, they transform tight-knit communities into places where neighbors distrust each other, where people censor themselves, and where everyone lives with an unhealthy dose of fear and paranoia. These investigations were spurred by policies that profiled entire communities based on religion and ethnicity and used a broad brush to paint law-abiding Americans as suspects.
As part of a documentary film chronicling her quest for information about the surveillance of her neighborhood in Chicago, filmmaker and journalist Assia Boundaoui filed a number for Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Justice in 2016, requesting information about “Operation Vulgar Betrayal”. After months of meeting bureaucratic resistance the FBI sent a remarkable letter stating they had 33,120 records related to this investigation. After being informed by the FBI that it would take more than four years to even begin to process these documents, a lawsuit was launched in 2017. With the legal assistance of a New York law-firm who took the case on pro-bono, a lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court in Illinois to compel the FBI release these records immediately. According to information provided by the Department of Justice in the course of this lawsuit, “in Operation Vulgar Betrayal, there are approximately 500 subfiles relating to numerous individuals and organizations.”
The existence of these 500 files on individual American-Muslims, which the FBI collected in the course of this investigation, is astounding. The DOJ went on to say that they would not release these records of individuals because of “privacy concerns” and that the only way to access these files is if the individuals named sign privacy waivers. To that end the the filmmaker along with a coalition of organizers in Chicago have embarked on a mass privacy-waiver signing campaign to compel everyone who may possibly be named in these records to sign a waiver, so that if they have a file, they will have the right to see it.
If you are an American Arab or Muslim who lived in Chicago’s southwest suburbs between 1989-2012, if you were activist, member or donor of any national American Muslim organizations, or local organizations in Chicago’s southwest-suburbs, than you may be among the 500 individuals that the FBI collected files on. Once an individual signs a privacy waiver we will submit them collectively to the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit and the DOJ will be compelled to turn over any files they have collected on the named individual. Each time that we get a file back from the DOJ we will deliver it to the named individual, and once folks have a chance to review their own files, and with their permission and privacy in consideration, we hope to enter part of the information in these files into the public record. In order to access our file you will need to sign a PRIVACY WAIVER (downloadable link here). Send your completed and signed waivers securely to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about this campaign please contact us at: email@example.com.
We believe strongly in the public’s right to know. We believe that one of the pillars of American democracy is government transparency, and that our ability to hold government accountable is only as strong as our ability to access government records. Lack of transparency from law enforcement creates fertile ground for impunity and corruption. We intend to disrupt the secrecy that shrouds terrorism investigations by compelling the government through Freedom of Information Acts to make transparent the breadth of investigations that have resulted in the blanket surveillance of entire American Muslim communities. Just as the revelation of the COINTELPRO documents in the ’60’s resulted in the forming of a Congressional Committee that curbed the unchecked powers of the FBI, we hope ultimately that this project will lead to a moratorium on unwarranted and blanket surveillance of American Muslim communities.