Law Enforcement Records Sought in Stolen Pendleton Surveillance Documents
Following news reports of a major security breach at the Strategic Technical Operations Center at Camp Pendleton, in which its chief and his staff operated a ring that stole surveillance files to give to local law enforcement, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act requests with the FBI, the U.S. Department of Defense, the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department today.
The requests seek information on possibly unlawful surveillance of law-abiding members of the community merely because of their religion, and whether the federal government disclosed information arising from that surveillance to local law enforcement in San Diego County.
An investigative article in the San Diego Union-Tribune on May 22, 2008 reported that “a massive number of files were taken from Camp Pendleton,” including “more than 100 FBI and Defense Department files,” and illegally turned over to local law enforcement in Los Angeles. A number of the records concern the Islamic Center of San Diego, which, according to the article, was “monitored by a federal surveillance program targeting Muslim groups.”
“If the news reports are accurate, they reveal the perils of mass data collection programs,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “If the government is spying on law-abiding Muslims merely because of their religion—without any evidence of criminal activity—any group could be next.”
The ACLU affiliates in San Diego and Los Angeles, along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California already requested congressional hearings on May 28, 2008 on the security breach when the article was first published.
“We are disturbed by the implications of a new government spying infrastructure acting in such a reckless fashion,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego. “The breach of the government’s top security systems shows just how lawless and out-of-control this program was. What kind of security can this agency actually be giving us if it can’t even protect its own security systems?”
“While the government is wasting time targeting Muslim Americans and Muslim organizations just because we are practicing our faith, they are missing out on identifying actual terrorism suspects,’ said Edgar Hopida, Public Relations Director of the San Diego chapter of CAIR. “We need to know what surveillance was done, who authorized it, and why.”
The Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act requests seek records to answer those questions, and whether any collected information was unlawfully shared between government agencies, local law enforcement agencies, or with private contractors.
The requests ask for all records created from January 1, 2001 to the present that were “prepared, received, transmitted, collected, and/or maintained” by the FBI, the National Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the San Diego Police Department that refer to the Islamic Center, CAIR, or CAIR’s San Diego staff.
The ACLU also wants records related to the methods of information collection on investigation and infiltration, the rationale for determining who was to be targeted for surveillance, and a number of other specific requests.
Response from FBI and DOD is required by federal law within no more than twenty business days of the request. State law requires a response from the police and sheriff’s departments within ten days.