FBI Director Robert Mueller announced yesterday that the FBI has placed a substantial number of people who may have ties to al-Qaeda under 24-hour surveillance. He said the bureau has been “pushed, really pushed” to track all the terror suspects. Mueller explained that a suspect could be someone who phoned a prominent terrorist overseas or someone who passes out pro-bin Laden literature.
Mueller’s announcement follows shortly after Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a new program yesterday requiring tens of thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders to be fingerprinted, photographed, and registered with the government before entering the country. Only “individuals from countries who pose the highest risk to our security” will have to register. Ashcroft refused to name particular countries, but sources said the effort would focus primarily on men from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.
Ashcroft said he expects about 100,000 visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed during the program’s first year. They would then be required to register periodically after that. They would also have to verify they were following their stated itinerary. Ashcroft called early results of the pilot program “extremely promising.”
But civil liberties and Arab-American groups say the regulations are racist and would be more appropriate in a police state. Representative John Conyers called the initiative “shocking” and “Orwellian.”
- David Cole, professor, Georgetown University Law Center and a volunteer staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is the author of ??No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System (New Press, 1999 as well as the co-author of ??Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security.