Bloomberg News

FBI Using Stereotypes to Target U.S. Minorities, ACLU Says

October 20, 2011

(Updates with comment from FBI starting in fifth paragraph.)

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The FBI is targeting ethnic and racial communities in the U.S. for investigation based on stereotypes about which groups commit crimes, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The civil liberties group today released Federal Bureau of Investigation documents it obtained using public records requests showing the bureau collected demographic data. The documents, which included sections that were redacted by the FBI, didn’t indicate that any specific investigation was opened as a result of the data.

The FBI’s tactics are unconstitutional and ineffective, the civil liberties group said in a statement.

“The FBI has targeted minority American communities around the country for investigation based not on suspicion of actual wrongdoing, but on the crudest stereotypes about which groups commit different types of crimes,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the New York-based ACLU’s national security project, in a statement.

The FBI said it had done nothing wrong and that it opposes racial or ethnic discrimination. The FBI is seeking to address specific threats, not to target communities, said Michael Kortan, an FBI spokesman, in a statement.

Finding Connections

“Certain terrorist and criminal groups are comprised of persons primarily from a particular ethnic or geographic community, which must be taken into account when trying to determine if there are threats to the United States,” Kortan said.

“Putting data that is lawfully collected into maps sometimes allows connections to be identified that might otherwise go unnoticed,” Kortan said.

FBI documents provided by the ACLU show the bureau sought to collect information on Muslims in Michigan, blacks in Georgia and Chinese- and Russian-Americans in California and Latino communities in several states.

Michigan’s “large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population” made it “prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment” by terror groups, according to a July 2009 memorandum issued by the FBI’s Detroit field office.

A June 2009 memo on “Asian-Eurasian Criminal Enterprise Assessment” from the agency’s San Francisco field office said “there has been organized crime for generations” within its Chinese community and the area’s “sizable Russian population.”

FBI training materials also incorrectly portray Arab and Muslim communities as “violent and supporters of terrorism,” the ACLU said on its website.

--Editors: Justin Blum, Joe Sobczyk

To contact the reporter on this story: Seth Stern in Washington at sstern14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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