Back in 2004, FBI Special Agent Bill Shute set out to prove a point. A self-described “visual learner,” Shute thought that if you took arrest data from court records and local police and dumped it into Microsoft mapping software, you could ostensibly target specific geographic areas to find informants who could give vital information to help solve cases. He called the effort Project Pinpoint.
According to Bureau, the program was hugely successful. That’s when the agency’s counterterrorism branch got involved. Deputy counterterrorism chief Willie Hulon told a congressional panel that same year of a massive FBI database called the Investigative Data Warehouse. The program extended the reach of Shute’s local effort by collecting and sharing maps with FBI agents across the country.
The program eventually evolved into an effort known as “geo-mapping” — a method to track Muslim communities, even when there’s no suspicion that a crime is being committed.
The news, as reported by Spencer Ackerman at Wired, is just the latest example of the FBI’s warrantless surveillance of Muslim American communities during the War on Terror. Back in September, Wired also uncovered that the FBI was distributing training materials to its agents that described Muslims as “violent” and “radical.” That news came on top of a report from Trevor Aaronson at Mother Jones that the FBI had long been using spies to concoct phony terror plots. Our own Asraa Mustafa reported for Colorlines.com that the Obama administration was now making it nearly impossible for people caught in the FBI’s traps to protect their rights through lawsuits.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently got hold of the FBI’s maps, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. As you can see below, the maps are heavily redacted. But, as Ackerman points out, “they represent the first public confirmation that the FBI compiles maps of businesses, community centers and religious institutions in ethnic enclaves around the United States.”
The FBI’s response? They “oppose racial and ethnic discrimination,” according to a recently issued press release. And, they claim, what they’re doing isn’t actually that bad. From the press release: “[j]ust as putting push pins on a map will allow a local police chief to see clearly where the highest crime areas are, combining data that is lawfully collected into one place allows connections to be identified that might otherwise go unnoticed.”
The Justice department has recently vowed to re-think their training methods and scrub themselves clean of Islamophobia. To put it lightly, that’s no easy task.