Muslims angered by FBI radiation checks at mosques
Federal law-enforcement officials said Friday that FBI agents have secretly monitored radiation levels at Islamic mosques, businesses and...
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — Federal law-enforcement officials said Friday that FBI agents have secretly monitored radiation levels at Islamic mosques, businesses and homes for several years in large cities to determine whether nuclear or chemical bombs were being assembled.
The officials said no suspicious radiation levels have been found.
The disclosure, after the revelation last week that the government has secretly spied on U.S. citizens without court permission, angered a number of U.S. Muslim leaders. They cited a Supreme Court ruling three months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in which the justices rejected such government monitoring.
"All Americans should be concerned about the apparent trend toward a two-tiered system of justice, with full rights for most citizens and another diminished set for Muslims," said Nihad Award, an official of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil-liberties group.
But Justice Department officials said the monitoring was lawful. They said that investigators used special equipment to gauge radiation levels at homes, warehouses and religious centers of Muslim groups, and that the testing was done in or near parking lots and driveways, areas the government views as public property.
They said the testing was still taking place. It was first reported Friday by U.S. News & World Report.
"This is being done in a manner that protects U.S. constitutional rights," said Brain Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman. "FBI agents do not intrude across any constitutionally protected areas without proper legal authority."
After the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, federal officials began monitoring Muslim groups' activities to determine whether they were planning attacks.
Roehrkasse and other federal law-enforcement officials said the agents had targeted mosques, warehouses, businesses and some homes in and near several of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Chicago.
A Seattle connection?
In its report, U.S. News said Seattle was among the cities where monitoring occurred. But Seattle FBI spokesman Robbie Burroughs was surprised by questions about the program. "The Seattle office of the FBI is not involved in that kind of activity," she said. "It's not happening."
Gary Robertson, with the radiation division of the state Department of Health, said, "We're not aware of the government doing any monitoring around mosques."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had a nationwide program since the 1970s to monitor for fallout from nuclear-weapons tests.
But testing for material emitting radiation — such as radioactive material that could be combined with chemicals to build a dirty bomb — is done differently.
"Normally what they would do is drive by, take an instrument that can detect if radiation is being emitted," said Debra McBaugh, head of the radiation division of the state Department of Health.
The federal Homeland Security Department or other federal officials have been through the region to look for radioactive material, McBaugh said. "They [Homeland Security] have told us after the fact, occasionally, that they've looked for nuclear material," she said.
Roehrkasse said the federal monitoring program also was used near other potential targets, including the 2004 political conventions and the Group of Eight summit of the leading industrial democracies that year, in Sea Island, Ga.
"For every single national event, we had these measures deployed," he said. "This is what homeland security is all about."
Another federal source, who asked not to be identified, said government lawyers reviewed the process and found it legal for the tests to proceed without agents seeking court authorization.
The tests are frequent and could pose grave logistical problems if court permission had to be routinely sought, he said.
Awad and other Muslim leaders at the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the monitoring fit a pattern of spying on U.S. citizens without first obtaining a court warrant. "This disturbing revelation coupled with recent reports of domestic surveillance without warrant, could lead to the perception that we are no longer a nation ruled by law but instead one in which fear trumps constitutional rights," Awad said.
Awad and other Muslim officials pointed to a June 11, 2001, Supreme Court decision that found a similar testing program to be unlawful.
Seattle Times reporters Craig Welch and Maureen O'Hagan contributed to this report.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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