Attorney General Eric Holder Chastised for Move to Quash Suit Against FBI for Spying on Muslims in OC

Attorneys for Muslims who have been spied on by the government through paid informants like Irvine's Craig Monteilh asked a federal court to reject U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's move to dismiss their lawsuit against the FBI on grounds the case exposes state secrets.

"It is shocking that the Obama Administration would invoke the state secrets privilege to dispose of this lawsuit," said Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Greater Los Angeles Area office in Anaheim.

Ameena Mirza Qazi is flanked by plaintiff Sheikh Yassir Fazaga (left) and CAIR-LA executive director Hussam Ayloush.
In a statement emailed to the Weekly by the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Southern California office in Los Angeles, Qazi continued, "State secrets should be an evidentiary rule to keep specific information or documents from being presented in court. It should not be used to prevent those wronged by the government from having their day in court."

On Monday, Holder made the a rare assertion of the state secrets privilege in a motion that argues significant harm to national security could arise if the government is forced to reveal the subjects of the FBI's mosque-surveillance program dubbed "Operation Flex." Monteilh, a fitness trainer and alleged conman, is the key informant in the case.

Fazaga v. FBI, which was filed in February, alleges that during 2006 and 2007 the FBI collected extensive records about the daily, routine religious practices of members of various Southern California mosques, including places of worship in Irvine and Garden Grove infiltrated by Monteilh.

The suit accuses the feds of compiling detailed records about which members attended daily prayers and hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings of discussion groups, prayers, religious lectures and social and cultural events at various mosques.

Ironically, much of the case against the FBI is built on Monteilh's claims the FBI told him to talk openly about jihad in an attempt to solicit terrorist sentiments from community members.

The FBI has said it does not initiate counterterrorism operations based solely on a group's religion. And Holder's motion claims details Monteilh provided for Operation Flex remain properly protected counterterrorism investigative information. "This includes . . . precisely what that investigation entailed and why it was undertaken, the identity of particular subjects, and the reasons they were investigated," the document states.

Attorney General Eric Holder
Holder argues that if individuals knew they were under surveillance, they could "anticipate the actions of law enforcement and intelligence officers, possibly leading to counter-surveillance that could place federal agents at higher risk."

The AG's Department of Justice released a statement Tuesday claiming it conducted a thorough review "to provide greater accountability for the use of privilege" by invoking it only in seeking dismissal of Monteilh's claims of illegal electronic surveillance.

"Officials specifically looked for a way to allow this case to proceed while carving out national security information, and concluded that some information about the allegations could be made available without compromising sensitive national security information," reads the statement.

The ACLU, CAIR and the firm of Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny Richardson and Renick filed its motion late Thursday requesting that the court rule whether the state secrets doctrine can properly be invoked in the case before a ruling is made on the DOJ request.

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