Spying or no flying?

May 2014
Al Jazeera

The FBI has used the No Fly List to coerce American Muslims into spying on their community.

In mid-April, after an eight-year, "Kafkaesque" ordeal implicating its vast architecture of official secrecy and bureaucratic intransigence, the US government finally, if grudgingly, informed Dr Rahinah Ibrahim that she was no longer on the No Fly List. Dr Ibrahim, a Malaysian architecture professor, had been placed on the list as a result of a clerical error, a fact that the Department of Justice fought vigorously in court to cover up, until a federal judge ordered it to come clean. This marks an important victory for transparency in the realm of US watch lists, which operate in near-total secrecy, even when mistakes are made.

But a major part of the story about the government's misuse of its No Fly List has yet to be told. The government is depriving people in the US of their freedom to travel, without any notice or hearing, not only by mistake, as in Dr Ibrahim's case, but also deliberately, in order to coerce them to work as informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Our two organisations, CLEAR and the Center for Constitutional Rights, sued US federal agents, officials and agencies last week on behalf of four American Muslim men with no criminal records who were approached by the FBI in an effort to recruit them as informants. One of them was asked if he would go to online Islamic forums and "act extremist," while another was asked whether he would travel to Pakistan for the FBI. And the agents don't beat around the bush. As one agent told our client who had turned to his elected representatives for assistance: "The Congressmen can't do shit for you; we're the only ones who can take you off the list."

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Last modified 

May 8, 2014