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Does 'Arab National' Plus 'Flight School' Necessarily Equal 'Threat'? As Ashcroft Slashes COINTELPRO Restrictions On Domestic Spying, a Debate On Racial Profiling, Civil Liberties and National Securit

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FBI director Robert Mueller III expressed regret on Wednesday about the FBI headquarters’ handling of a memo from its Phoenix office about a large number of Arabs seeking training at a U.S. flight school.

The memo was written by FBI agent Kenneth Williams and dated July 10, 2001. Williams expressed his concerns about a number of flight students he was monitoring in Phoenix, Arizona. He did not specify the students had any links to al-Qa’ida. But he raised the prospect that the terror network could use American flight schools to train its members to launch attacks on US targets.

The memo caused a furor in Washington last month, and Mueller said at the news conference on Wednesday that midlevel FBI managers should have immediately given the memo to top officials who might have recognized its significance.

But the memo and the subsequent furor should raise not only the question about what the FBI and Bush administration could have done to prevent the September 11 attacks, but also questions about racial profiling. Does 'Arab national' plus 'flight training' necessarily equal 'threat'? Should the FBI be authorized to investigate any Arab national involved in flight training?

Meanwhile, Attorney General John Ashcroft is set to announce today that FBI agents will have new latitude to monitor Internet sites, libraries and religious institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity.

Under the old rules, agents had to show they had probable cause or information from an informer that crimes were being committed to begin counterterrorism investigations.

Those restrictions were adopted after disclosures of domestic F.B.I. spying under the old Cointelpro program, and for 25 years they have been among the most fundamental limits on the bureau’s conduct.

ACLU director Laura Murphy said: “The government is rewarding failure… when the F.B.I. fails, the response by the Bush administration is to give the bureau new powers, as opposed to seriously look at why the intelligence and law enforcement failures occurred.”

Today we’re going to have a debate on racial profiling, civil liberties, and what is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks


  • Hussein Ibish, Communications Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
  • Victoria Toensing, founding partner of the Washington law firm diGenova & Toensing. From 1984-1988, she served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department. In this capacity, she established the department’s Terrorism Unit and managed the Federal government’s efforts to prosecute those responsible for the hijacking of TWA 847, the bombing of Pan Am 830 and the takeover of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. She also served as Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • David MacMichael, former CIA analyst and an analyst for the National Intelligence Council from 1981-1983. He is also a founding member of the Association of National Security Alumni, an organization of former CIA and FBI officers devoted to the reform of the intelligence system. (“We had absolutely no effect and we disbanded at the end of the Cold War”)

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