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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ruling: FBI, DOJ Lied To Judge Regarding CAIR FOIA Search

By J.M. Berger

The FBI and the Department of Justice lied in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for documents pertaining to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Islamic organizations, according to a judge's ruling filed last month.

The government cited "national security" as its reason for misleading both the requesters and the court in a subsequent appeal of the request.

The FOIA request was filed in 2006 by a group of Muslim individuals and organizations in Southern California, including the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, CAIR's California chapter, the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, the West Coast Islamic Center, Human Assistance and Development International Inc.

Individuals included in the request included Muzammil Siddiqui, a former employee of the Muslim World League in New York, and Hussam Ayloush, of CAIR's Los Angeles office.

The request asked for "[a]ny records relating or referring' [to themselves] including but not limited to records that document any collection of information about monitoring, surveillance, observation, questioning, interrogation, investigation and/or infiltration of any of the Requesters or their activities."

In 2009, the requesters appealed responses from the FBI and Justice Department that it had fully responded to the FOIA request, arguing that material had been improperly redacted and that the FBI and DOJ had not performed an adequate search. The court ordered an in camera review of material related to the request in order to verify the government's compliance.

David Hardy, the FBI's top FOIA compliance officer, subequently filed an in camera declaration revealing that the government had misled the court in its filings for the case by misrepresenting both the basis for redacting the documents that had been released as well as the number of documents found.

According to Judge Cormac J. Carney (emphasis added):

The Government's in camera submission raises a very disturbing issue. The Government previously provided false and misleading information to the Court. The Government represented to the Court in pleadings, declarations, and briefs that it had searched its databases and found only a limited number of documents responsive to Plaintiffs' FOIA request and that a significant amount of information within those documents was outside the scope of Plaintiffs' FOIA request. The Government's representations were then, and remain today, blatantly false. As the Government's in camera submission makes clear, the Government located a significant number of documents that were responsive to Plaintiffs' FOIA request. Virtually all of the information within those documents is inside the scope of Plaintiffs' FOIA request. The Government asserts that it had to mislead the Court regarding the Government's response to Plaintiffs' FOIA request to avoid compromising national security.

Carney took a dim view of this rationalization, writing, "The Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the Court." FOIA exemptions for national security and intelligence gathering "do not grant the Government a license to lie to the Court," Carney wrote.

The ruling was provided to INTELWIRE by Salt Lake City attorney Jesse Trentadue, who is also embroiled in a lawsuit against the government over FOIA requests relating to the Oklahoma City bombing. Trentadue filed a copy of Carney's ruling in his own case as evidence of the FBI's bad faith in responding to FOIA requests. David Hardy also responded for the government during proceedings in Trentadue's lawsuit.

CAIR has been the subject of FBI investigations relating to its origins with Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood support organizations, as detailed in the terrorism financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation. The Muslim World League has also been investigated for links to terrorism financing.

Read the complete ruling (PDF)

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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