By Adam Serwer, Mother Jones magazine, August 15, 2012
It was like a James O’Keefe hidden camera operation gone wrong: In 2006, despite no evidence of wrongdoing, the FBI sent informant Craig Monteilh to spy on a California mosque, only to have Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, the guy Monteilh was trying to convince to launch a fake terrorist operation, report the informant to the authorities. (Naturally, in 2009 the FBI then unsuccessfully tried to prosecute Niazi anyway).
The Monteilh-Niazi incident was part of “Operation Flex,” an FBI counterterrorism program that involved surveillance of the Muslim community in Southern California. Three local Muslims, Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Uddin Malik, and Yasser AbdelRahim, sued the FBI in February 2011 arguing that the FBI violated their constitutional rights. The Obama administration responded by invoking the state secrets doctrine, which often serves as a sort of get-out-of-court-free card for the government, and asking Judge Cormac J. Carney to dismiss the case because it would force disclosure of materials that could jeopardize national security. Carney did just that on Wednesday, accepting the government’s argument that the case would endanger state secrets. In doing so, Carney dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that embracing the state secrets doctrine in the Monteilh case would lead to a state of affairs where “any practice, no matter how abusive, may be immunized from legal challenge by being labeled as ‘counterterrorism’ and ‘state secrets.'”
“Such a claim assumes that courts simply rubber stamp the Executive’s assertion of the state secrets privilege. That is not the case here,” Carney wrote. “The Court has engaged in rigorous judicial scrutiny of the Government’s assertion of privilege and thoroughly reviewed the public and classified filings with a skeptical eye.”
The case involves two key elements of the Obama administration’s approach to national security: The use of FBI informants and fake terror plots and the aggressive use of the state secrets doctrine to keep its counterterrorism operations secret. As Trevor Aaronson reported in his award-winning story for the September/October 2011 issue of Mother Jones, “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.” Continue reading