The suit sought to expose a broad FBI dragnet in the area from 2006 to 2007, dubbed Operation Flex, which included undercover FBI informant Craig Monteilh conducting surveillance on Muslims affiliated with about 10 mosques in Los Angeles and Orange County.
The suit was filed in February 2011 by three Muslims living in Orange County—Yassir Fazaga, a U.S. citizen born in Eritrea; Ali Uddin Malik, a U.S. citizen born in southern California; and Yasser AbdelRahim, a U.S. permanent resident from Egypt. Attorneys for the plaintiffs—the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations—were seeking class-action status for the case.
Monteilh, who has since gone public about his FBI affiliation, filed a court declaration detailing aspects of his work as an FBI informant. Paid up to $11,200 a month, he was instructed to record all conversations through audio and video equipment with a hidden camera placed on his shirt, all of which were then forwarded to FBI files.
FBI handlers told him to “immerse myself in the Muslim community” and “gather information on as many people and institutions as possible,” his declaration stated.
This spying included filming layout of mosques, gathering information on Muslims’ donations to charity, attending fundraising events, collecting information on travel plans, attending lectures by Muslim scholars and working out with Muslims in a local gym, summarized federal Judge Cormac Carney in his document ruling on the case.
Charges by the plaintiffs included an invasion of privacy, violation of their First Amendment right to free speech, to equal protection under the Fifth Amendment, and unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment. They sought damages and destruction or return of any information gathered through Operation Flex.
While Judge Carney wrote that “plaintiffs allege many disturbing facts about Operation Flex and wrongdoing by Defendants,” he nonetheless threw the case out of court on the basis that “the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security.”
In August 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted the state secrets privilege over the government’s evidence in the case. This evidence was made available to the judge but not to the plaintiffs or their attorneys.
Holder’s declaration said he “concurred with the FBI’s determination that disclosure of the identities of subjects of counterterrorism investigations” and “disclosure that an individual is not a subject of a national security investigation could likewise reasonably be expected to cause significant harm to national security.”
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the dismissal.
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