The FBI: A History of Abuse

The Untold Story of the Bureau’s Marginalizing Policies


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the leading federal law enforcement agency in counterterrorist and domestic security matters (Bjelopera 1). The FBI’s mandate prioritizes national security issues, particularly those involving terrorist and foreign intelligence threats (Nemeth 338). The FBI has faced countless menaces over the course of its history; amongst others, the Bureau has dealt with two major episodes that threatened to destabilize the safety of the United States: the Cold War and the War on Terror. The FBI’s responses to the aforementioned momentous issues have been both praised and critiqued, as the agency reacted in an aggressive (and thereby, potentially abusive) manner to both the ‘Red Threat’ and the more contemporary terrorist menace (Theoharis, Abuse of Power xii). I will focus on the particular notion that, both during the Cold War and the War on Terror, the Federal of Bureau of Investigation targeted distinct marginalized sectors of the populace, due to their assumed relation to the actual menace (be it Communism or terrorism).

During the Cold War — as noted by Ivan Greenberg in Dangers of Dissent: The FBI and Civil Liberties since 1965 — the FBI specifically targeted “emerging social movements for black civil rights, women’s rights, Native American rights, gay rights, black power and the anti-war movement” (32), as the Bureau assumed that the liberal-Left nature of the above social movements guaranteed their affiliation to Communism. According to Greenberg, the FBI conducted about “five hundred thousand domestic security investigations with the vast majority focused on people and groups with liberal-Left politics” (32). The unfortunate misguided pursuit of social and political deviants during the Cold War caused great harm to the isolated factions of the populace; as exposed by Greenberg, the “political and ideological witch hunt [led by the FBI] against ‘subversives’ stifled dissent and left great scars on the psyche of the nation while undermining the human rights of thousands of people” (31).[1]

The FBI’s controversial stigmatizing of social and political dissidents proliferated during the Hoover administration, and only came under greater scrutiny after the famed Director’s passing (Johnson); it was until the involvement of the U.S. Senate Church Committee in 1975 and 1976 — which exposed the agency’s illegal conduct during hearings on its counterintelligence programs — that the Bureau’s intrusive policies began to be dismantled (Greenberg 32). The Church Committee essentially concluded that the FBI had exceeded its investigatory mandate and utilized counterintelligence operations to disrupt dissenting groups (Office of the Inspector General). Having viewed the dangers of the FBI’s abusive endeavors, the Church Committee requested the formulation of the “permanent [U.S. Senate] Select Committee on Intelligence” (Greenberg 32), seeking to limit the powers of national security agencies. Moreover, the U.S. Attorney General, Edward H. Levi, instituted a set of guidelines (in 1976) which stipulated that — in order to pursue a criminal investigation involving wiretapping or break-ins — the FBI needed to present sufficient and concrete evidence (Office of the Inspector General). In brief, both the Legislative and Judicial branches — having attained full awareness of the FBI’s abusive policies — sought to restrict the Bureau’s autonomy, in order to prevent continued misconceived targeting of social and political deviants. Although the post-crisis response did not erase the severe societal and institutional backlash that dissenting factions had already been subject to as a result of the FBI’s isolative endeavors, the reformation of the Bureau supposedly guaranteed that the agency would never again target an untraditional — and yet, quite innocent — sector of the citizenry. While that appeared to be the case in the decades following the revision of the FBI’s institutional framework, the unexpected emergence of the terrorist threat in the early twenty-first century revived the agency’s oppressive policies.

The United States underwent a period of intense turmoil following the events of September 11th, 2001. The abrupt disruption caused by the terrorist attacks led to widespread fear and paranoia; intending to respond to the menace, the FBI sought to “transform itself into an agency that can prevent terrorist acts, rather than react to them as crimes” (Peykar 57). Supporters of the FBI contend that the agency has become a necessity for the guaranteeing of safety in America; these individuals argue that — as a result of the Bureau’s revamping — the FBI is now “unique among federal agencies, because it supplies the critical ingredient to a successful war against terrorism in the U.S. — unmatched law enforcement capabilities integrated with an improving intelligence program” (Peykar 58). Basically, the initiation of the War of Terror stimulated the FBI’s expansion into the field of counterintelligence and counterterrorism, areas previously unattended by the Bureau (which focused mostly on law enforcement); the FBI also underwent significant structural reforms, with Director Robert Mueller III “consolidating and centralizing FBI Headquarters control over all counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases” (Peykar 57–58). In brief, following the events of 9/11, the FBI not only assumed more responsibilities (specifically in the realms of counterintelligence and counterterrorism), but the Bureau also endorsed centralized decision-making. These two aspects of the FBI transformation, coupled with the atmosphere of fear that prevailed in the United States, drove the reappearance of the Bureau’s isolative and abusive Cold War policies.

As during the Cold War, the FBI focused its post-9/11 efforts on a single entity: radical jihadists. The increased oversight of the FBI — combined with the aforementioned intelligence reforms implemented by the agency — seemed to provide a positive foresight for the Bureau’s counter-terrorist endeavors. Nevertheless, the permeating paranoia that infected the United States following the events of 9/11 incentivized the Attorney General’s promulgation of more liberal policies concerning the FBI’s operational methods; Attorney General Michael Mukasey “encouraged [FBI Agents] to move beyond law enforcement to ‘prevent’ or ‘protect’ against crime and national-security threats…” (Theoharis, Abuse of Power 149). Mukasey therefore allowed FBI agents — and their supervisors — to independently determine the lawfulness of their intentions, thereby erasing the need for governmental intervention. Even more worrying, Theoharis notes that “despite the broad scope and permissiveness of his guidelines, the attorney general did not institute strict oversight procedures to deter zealous agents from abusing this authority” (Abuse of Power 150). Overall, the FBI not only expanded its power through the agency’s internal intelligence reforms, but oversight over the Bureau also decreased significantly. Consequentially, the Bureau’s oppressive targeting of Arab and Muslim Americans was left largely unchecked; for instance, the FBI developed “an agent training program that included patently offensive materials and instructors who falsely asserted that devout Muslims are likely to become terrorists” (Love). Although the Bureau eventually eliminated said scandalous program, the agency’s internal propagation of xenophobic ideals is certainly unsettling. Moreover, the sole existence of such a prejudicial curriculum proves that both the lacking oversight of the Bureau and the agency’s increased reach facilitated FBI agents’ misguided pursuit of Arab and Muslim Americans.

An important aspect to recall is that, after the damaging effects of Hoover’s pursuit of social and political deviants were exposed, both Congress and the Attorney General’s office sought to curb the FBI’s abuses by limiting the agency’s power. Hence, even with the implementation of such bureaucratic attempts at reducing the FBI’s reach, the Bureau still found itself in a similarly controversial position following the events of 9/11. Thus, the question remains as to why the Bureau continues to tangle with civil rights abuses, specifically in times of national crises. There is clearly a systematic deficiency within the FBI’s framework if the agency’s policies have repeatedly resulted in the isolation and harassment of a marginalized sector of the populace. If the distinct targets of the Bureau’s Cold War and War on Terror policies were both consequentially subject to a level of societal and institutional backlash that disrupted the stability of their lives, the FBI’s approach to national crises may warrant an overwhelming reformation. This notion holds particular contemporary relevance, as the domestic reinvigoration of Islamophobic sentiments following the Paris terrorist attacks (Semple) indicates that a new wave of targeting policies by the Bureau may possibly arise in the near future. The purpose of the Bureau is to protect the entire populace from genuine threats to their safety; if the agency’s dealing with momentous issues constantly results in the misguided oppression of a marginalized sector of the citizenry, we must ask ourselves whether the FBI’s endeavors are actually beneficial to our society.


The Detriments of Warrantless Intelligence Gathering

Social and political dissidents underwent a period of unrelenting scrutiny during John Edgar Hoover’s administration (Cunningham and Barb 347). For starters, the Bureau constantly recurred to warrantless intelligence gathering in its attempt to survey ‘dangerous dissidents’; according to Ivan Greenberg, between 1956 and 1971, the FBI implanted 2,305 warrantless phones taps and 697 warrantless bugs in private settings of social and political dissidents (33). The intrusive nature of the above endeavor fostered widespread paranoia amongst those targeted, who feared that even the most intimate portions of their lives were being surveyed (Carlisle and Golson 91). Seeking to profit from the prevalent fear, the FBI went as far as to authorize its agents to eavesdrop “in an open, conspicuous manner to induce paranoia” (Greenberg 33). Additionally, the FBI sanctioned the execution of so-called ‘Black Bag Jobs’, which consisted of thieving sensitive information from the headquarters of prominent social and political movements (or that of their members’ private residences) (Holden 54). According to M. Wesley Swearingen — a former FBI agent — the Bureau conducted around 23,800 ‘Black Bag Jobs’ over a thirty-five year period during the Hoover administration (Swearingen 34). The effects of warrantless phone tapping and bug implants seem trivial when compared to the damage inflicted by the more invasive ‘Black Bag Jobs’; as a result of the sanctioning of these operations, not only were the residences and workspaces of social and political dissidents broken into, but personal — and possibly defamatory — information was stolen from these entities.

Supporters of the FBI’s warrantless intelligence gathering contend that the Bureau’s tactics were justifiable due to the ‘violent nature’ of social and political organizations (Abu-Jamal 118). For instance, Hoover deemed the Black Panthers to be “ ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the country’ ” (Abu-Jamal 118), thereby enhancing public support for increased scrutiny of the Black Panthers’ members. Nonetheless, why did the FBI’s Director consider the Black Panthers to be such a menace? Due to the group’s popular ‘Breakfast for Children Program’, as argued by Hoover himself:

You state that the Bureau under the [Counterintelligence Program] should not attack

programs of community interest such as the [Black Panther Party] “Breakfast for Children”. You state that this is because many prominent “humanitarians”, both white and black, are interested in the program as well as churches which are actively supporting it. You have obviously missed the point. (Bloom and Martin 177)

As demonstrated through the case study above, the FBI’s excessive surveillance of social and political movements was not necessarily due to the existence of a genuine, imminent threat. Indeed, there is certainly nothing naturally ‘violent’ concerning the Black Panther’s “Breakfast for Children’s Program”. Thus, it is hard to believe that the FBI’s increased scrutiny of said group — and that of other subversive entities — was not at least partially based on the Bureau’s anti-deviances campaign. Therefore — in cases such as that of the Black Panther Party — the FBI’s reliance on warrantless intelligence gathering was rather unjustifiable, because the group did not pose a veritable threat.

Evidently, the FBI’s implementation of warrantless intelligence gathering programs inflicted severe harm upon targeted social and political organizations. The Bureau’s methods were not only considerably intrusive, but — in some cases — the agency even lacked proper justification for the sanctioning of said invasive operations (Beare 194). Nonetheless, although the agency’s warrantless intelligence gathering operations were quite deleterious, the Bureau pursued even more damaging endeavors under Hoover’s administration.

Ramifications of the FBI’s Undercover Informants Programs

During the course of the Cold War, the FBI sanctioned the widespread deployment of undercover informers, individuals that infiltrated targeted social and political movements in order to enhance the Bureau’s surveillance of these groups (Fitzgerald 3). These agents were instructed “to passively gather information and to actively create divisions [within their infiltrated entity]” (Greenberg 34). Moreover, FBI informants recurred to the fabrication of feigned documentation and correspondence to disrupt organizational efforts (Greenberg 34). The FBI’s stifling of social and political movements through its use of undercover informants had damaging societal repercussions: for instance, one could certainly argue that — were it not for the FBI’s intervention — some of these social and political movements could have attained more popularity during the Cold War, thereby inciting positive change amongst the American populace. For example, it is quite irrefutable to argue that the Black Civil Rights movement produced positive benefits for our society; nonetheless, by persistently intimidating Martin Luther King through the fabrication of alleged Communist ties (amongst his followers), the FBI stimulated fear within the African-American Civil Rights movement, thereby driving “some people who might have been sympathetic to King [to shy] away from supporting him” (Carlisle and Golson 91). Evidently, had the FBI not actively disrupted these organizations through the deployment of undercover agents, campaigns such as the one above could have possibly attained earlier success. Hence, the FBI’s endeavor to disrupt the operations of social and political movements allowed for the maintenance of the traditional American status quo, further supporting the containment-cultural notions of sameness and uniformity, and thereby augmenting the isolation of social and political deviants.

Moreover, based on the fact that the FBI’s undercover agents were encouraged to “precipitate controversy” amongst contrasting dissenting groups (Theoharis, The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide 181), the Bureau quite ironically incentivized violence and crime through its undercover informants program (to the specific detriment of said group’s members). For instance, through the so-called Operation Hoodwink — implemented in New York City — the Bureau sought to “disrupt the Communist Party, USA (CP, USA) by setting it against La Costa Nostra (LCN) and other organized criminal elements” (FBI, Operation Hoodwink 3). In doing so, the FBI believed that these dissenting and criminal factions would “expend their energies attacking each other” (FBI, Operation Hoodwink 3), and thus present less of a threat to the Bureau’s ideological crusade. Although the concrete results of Operation Hoodwink have not been disclosed, the stimulation of violence by the Bureau — an agency mandated to ensure the safety of American lives — is certainly troubling. In brief, the FBI’s informants program not only stumped the development of well-intended social and political movements, but also propagated acts of violence by encouraging splits between the agency’s targeted factions.

Public Defamation of Targeted Social and Political Movements

During the course of the Cold War, the FBI relied heavily upon defamatory tactics in order to discredit or humiliate its investigatory subjects (Theoharis, The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide 181). According to Theoharis, “the FBI’s disruptive tactics included placing unfavorable stories about targeted groups in the media… [and] leaking derogatory information to the media and public officials to discredit individuals” (The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide 181). Consequentially, the FBI was able to hinder social and political movements’ ability to garner public support, as the slandering of these entities disrupted their recruitment efforts (Carlisle and Golson 91). Consider the case of the FBI’s 1962 campaign against the Pro-Independence University Federation of Puerto Rico (FUPI): as exposed in the Bureau’s COINTELPRO files, the FBI manufactured and anonymously distributed three-thousand copies of a leaflet titled “FUPI Ambassador and Friends in Moscow”, in order to “disrupt activities and diminish the influence” of the organization (FBI, Puerto Rican Groups 93). The Bureau’s fabricated propaganda was “extremely detrimental to the FUPI cause in Puerto Rico” (FBI, Puerto Rican Groups 35); according the FBI’s files, the distribution of the leaflet:

Has curtailed FUPI membership, decreased attendance at meetings, decrease amounts obtained in fund drives, placed FUPI leaders on the defensive, has caused FUPI members to be scorned and ridiculed and has given pro-United States factions at the University propaganda advantages never before available to them. (FBI, Puerto Rican Groups 3)

Evidently, the Bureau’s use of defamatory tactics unsettled social and political movements’ capabilities; by inhibiting these entities’ development and reach, the agency effectively curbed the spread of deviant ideals, successfully preserving the institutionally-endorsed ‘traditional’ beliefs.

The entire purpose of the FBI’s media-based campaign was to “frame public sentiment about a group or individual so the public accepted the FBI’s targeting as legitimate” (Greenberg 34); hence, were it not for the FBI’s propagation of misinformation, the more vicious elements of its stringent campaign against social and political dissenters would have lacked sufficient public backing. In other words, through its scandalmongering, the FBI was able to “convince the American public of a conspiracy and then operate against the ‘conspiracy’ in a rough and clandestine fashion” (Stohl 222). For instance, the FBI’s prior defamation of pro-independence Puerto Rican groups (such as FUPI) facilitated the agency’s “egregious illegal action, maybe criminal action” that — as noted by former FBI Director Louis J. Feeh — “did tremendous destruction to many people” on the island (Navarro). Why were the Bureau’s illicit ventures facilitated by the agency’s misinformation campaigns? According to Dr. Félix Matos Domínguez — the director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies — the Bureau’s disinformation crusades stimulated an “extensive network of Puerto Ricans telling on each other” (Navarro); in fact, Matos Domínguez believes that the FBI’s illicit activities “could not have happened without the collaboration of many people in Puerto Rico” (Navarro). Clearly, the Bureau’s defamation of social and political dissidents — by ‘legitimizing’ the FBI’s targeting of said groups — facilitated the agency’s authorization of more abusive stratagems. The FBI further utilized defamation tactics to intimidate its investigatory subjects, and thus dissuade them from pursuing their ‘deviant’ aims.

During the Hoover administration, the FBI endorsed so-called ‘Employment and Tenant Blacklisting’ programs; for instance, “during the 1960’s, the FBI contacted the employers or business associates of at least twenty-eight New Left activists and sixty civil rights and black power activists” (Greenberg 35). Essentially, the Bureau sought to coerce employers and landowners to get their investigatory subjects fired or evicted, respectively. The FBI even “recruited neighbors to engage in harassment” of their targets (Greenberg 36). The threat of being ‘blacklisted’ proved to be a vital intimidation tool for the Bureau, as it was well known — for instance — that finding a job after being ‘labeled’ by the FBI was quite difficult (Boykoff 104). The impacts of the FBI’s ‘blacklisting’ program are evidently severe: not only were individuals kicked-out of their homes or barred from their jobs, but having been ‘blacklisted’ by the Bureau continued to hinder individuals’ lives after the fact. Consider the case of Hollywood actress Jean Seberg; based on the fact that Seberg was a “financial contributor to and an associate of the Black Panther Party” (Larson and McGee), Hoover included Seberg in the FBI’s Security Index, and sanctioned COINTELPRO-led harassment of the actress (Newton 307). Allegations concerning the FBI’s supposed blacklisting of Seberg (as of 1970) have gained tracked recently, as Seberg’s released FBI file exposes the Bureau’s intention to “ ‘cheapen her image with the general public’ ” (Larson and McGee). Consequentially, Seberg’s career spiraled downwards, as the actress’s presence in Hollywood diminished significantly (Larson and McGee). Overwhelmed by the hardships of being institutionally harassed, Seberg eventually “committed suicides in Paris, with an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol, on 8 September 1979” (Newton 307). Evidently, being blacklisted by the Bureau represented much more than a financial hardship, as the stigma of having been ‘labeled by the FBI’ permanently afflicted the agency’s targets.

The Bureau endorsed even more damaging forms of public defamation, by pressing false criminal charges against social and political deviants, with the purpose of disrupting their dissenting operations and depleting their financial resources (Greenberg 36); the FBI basically sought to arrest militants until “ ‘they could no longer make bail’ ” (Glick 55). In order to sustain the imprisonment of their investigatory subjects, the FBI relied on the fabrication of evidence, witness intimidation, and perjury, amongst other illicit tactics (Greenberg 36). The effects of wrongful prosecution are quite clear, and evidently detrimental. For instance, consider the case of Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a former head of the Black Panther Party’s Los Angeles division: according to M. Wesley Swearingen — who was involved in a pertinent FBI division at the time — the FBI sought to neutralize Pratt “by framing him for murder” (Swearingen 80). Although wrongfully convicted, Pratt spent twenty-seven years — almost half his life — behind bars, including eight gruesome years under solitary confinement (Purdum). In brief, as exposed by the above case study, it is definitely safe to conclude that the FBI’s policy of wrongful prosecution violated the very sense of American justice, and inflicted substantial damage upon the lives of targeted social and political deviants.

Conclusions Concerning the FBI’s Cold War Policies and their Detrimental Effects

As proven above, the Bureau endorsed a multitude of controversial policies during its Cold War years, to the specific detriment of targeted social and political deviants. The increased scrutiny by the FBI destabilized the lives of individuals involved in dissenting social and political movements, and furthered their societal exclusion. Through the imposition of greater oversight by both Congress and the Department of Justice (led by the Attorney General), the FBI’s misguided pursuits were gradually dismantled. Nevertheless, those who hoped that the Bureau would never again engage in questionable pursuits of marginalized sectors of the populace were ultimately disappointed, as the upheaval incited by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 set the stage for the resurgence of the FBI’s targeting endeavors.


Flaws in Terrorist-Identification Procedures

Following the events of 9/11, the FBI revamped its structural framework in order to prioritize counterterrorist and counterintelligence efforts (Peykar 57); consequentially, the Bureau dedicated a substantial amount of resources to the persecution of potential domestic terrorist threats. Although the FBI’s pursuits were well intended, the Bureau’s ventures — possibly due to the fact that the agency found itself in unchartered territory — were tainted by several flaws.

For instance, one of the main problems with the FBI (following 9/11) was that the Bureau became unable to “distinguish between those willing to engage in terrorist attacks and those simply holding militant Islamicist views” (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 167). Infamously, the FBI detained “more than twelve hundred resident aliens of Middle Eastern descent” with alleged ties to terrorist networks; the Bureau did not hold charges against these detainees, who in some cases remained imprisoned for over a year (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 167). Even more impactful is that — after finally processing all twelve hundred detainees — the FBI determined that “only ten or eleven… had any relationship to the al-Qaeda terrorist operation” (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 168). Said persisting level of inefficiency — in terms of the ratio between the imposition of concrete sentences to that of the number of detainees — was partially caused by the Bureau’s reliance on undercover informants from Arab and Muslim American communities (Shiekh 54).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation offered Arab and Muslim detainees — specifically those holding lengthy sentences — an opportunity to secure their release if they cooperated with the agency by investigating their fellow community members (Shiekh 54). According to Azmath Mohammed, a convicted felon whom the FBI investigated for supposed terrorist ties, convicts that became FBI informants “claimed to know about suspicious people in their communities so that the FBI would drop their charges and release them. They were supposed to provide the FBI with names of suspects, and sometimes, these informants would purposely give the names of innocent people so that the FBI wouldn’t think that they had lied” (Shiekh 54). One can only conclude that there exists a correlation between the FBI’s reliance on these ‘tips’ and the noted higher levels of wrongful imprisonment. The effects of the Bureau’s deployment of intra-community undercover informants are quite deleterious; although the main sufferers consisted of those that were detained indefinitely or even imprisoned due to misguided judicial conclusions, the Bureau’s dependence on questionable ‘tips’ from former felons also disrupted entire Arab and Muslim American communities. As noted by Irum Shiekh, as a result of the FBI’s deployment of communal spies, “a sense of mistrust pervaded larger Muslim communities, especially those that had been stung by some of these intelligence operations” (55). One can only conclude that the breakdown of Arab and Muslim communities further isolated these individuals from the general populace, thereby increasing their marginalization within the American societal network.

The Bureau’s Excessive Surveillance and Interrogatory Practices

In a similar manner to that of the Cold War, the Bureau engaged in controversially intrusive surveillance practices following 9/11, specifically in regards to the targeting of Arab and Muslim Americans. FBI agents were specifically stimulated to pursue individuals of said denomination due to the loosening-up of their operational guidelines by the Department of Justice (Semple and Vitello); attempting to increase the Bureau’s effectiveness in pursuing terrorist-related links, the Department of Justice promulgated a new set of guidelines which “make it easier to plant informers and allow agents to include ethnicity and religion in the assessment of targets, as long as those are not the only factors considered” (Semple and Vitello). FBI agents’ oversight was further diminished when, “after the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced further measures authorizing FBI agents to spy on domestic groups without having to show evidence of a crime” (Peek 33).

Consequentially, Arab and Muslim Americans argue that the FBI has intruded upon fundamentally-private aspects of their lives, through “[frequent] home visits, heavy-handed efforts to recruit government informants, agents in mosques to observe Friday sermons, and a growing watch list that affects Muslim Americans when they travel” (Semple and Vitello). For instance, “in the fall of 2001 and spring of 2002, representatives from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies began visiting mosques, universities, and homes to conduct ‘voluntary’ interviews with nearly eight thousand Middle Eastern and South Asian men [legal residents]” (Peek 34). These individuals — according to the FBI — were not “individually suspect of any wrongdoing” — but the Bureau nonetheless considered them to be valuable assets in the initial portion of the War on Terror (Peek 34).

The FBI’s enhanced pursuit of alleged radical Islamists in local universities was particularly deleterious; for starters, the FBI coerced around two hundred universities to turn over “personal information about foreign students and faculty members to the FBI, most of the time without a subpoena or court order” (Peek 90). The results of the FBI’s unlicensed endeavor proved to be quite damaging, as it not only affected the isolated Arab and Muslim American communities: following the Bureau’s scholastic campaign, “numerous educational institutions reported significant declines in new student enrollment from Muslim-majority countries”; as a matter of fact, by 2002 “the number of Middle Eastern students attending American universities had fallen by 10 percent” (Peek 90). Due to the fact that “foreign students contribute an estimated $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year” (Peek 90), the Bureau’s intrusion into the lives of countless nonnative students also dealt a swift blow to the pockets of domestic academic entities.

In addition, one of the primordial issues with the Bureau’s post-9/11 endeavors — according to Arab and Muslim Americans — concerns the FBI’s reliance on oppressive interrogatory practices. Indeed, subjects contended that the “interviews with FBI agents and other officers were frightening, stressful, and demeaning and made Muslims feel like suspects” (Peek 93). This phenomenon proved to be detrimental for entire Arab and Muslim American communities; as exposed by a special report by The Washington Post, “the more Muslims feel singled out, the more they focus on painful divisions in their own ranks, between young and old, native and newcomer, secular and devout, militant and moderate” (Fisher). Thus, the FBI’s interview process definitely had long-lasting impacts within the marginalized communities themselves, driving Arab and Muslim Americans to feel insecure — and even ashamed — of their religious and ethnic identities.

Although less predominant, the physical abuses committed by FBI agents furthered such sentiments of marginalization; “… in some instances, prejudice on the part of police officers led to anti-Muslim verbal and physical assaults”, further isolating Arab and Muslim Americans, who were now wary of even the institutional framework that was supposed to guarantee their safety (Peek 97). Arab and Muslim Americans — feeling slighted by the government itself — would thus be more hesitant to challenge the institutional status quo; as argued by Athan G. Theoharis (specifically referencing the 2004 Presidential Election), due to their increased isolation and fear of potential systematic backlash, Arab and Muslim Americans would therefore be more hesitant “to challenge, during that year’s presidential campaign, the Bush administration’s potentially controversial policies involving the Iraq War and counterterrorism” (Abuse of Power 158). Thus began a vicious isolative cycle, as the heightened inactivity of Arab and Muslim Americans in said electoral period (effect of the FBI’s intrusive policies) further marginalized their participation within the American democratic system. Consequentially, the general unawareness of the hardships afflicting the Arab and Muslim American communities — including those inflicted by the spread of Islamophobic sentiments — remained present.

Stimulating Islamophobic Sentiments through the Leaking of Sensitive Information and General Hate-Crime Disinterest

The Federal Bureau of Investigation contributed, both directly and indirectly, to the media-fueled Islamophobia following the events of 9/11. The Bureau, in addition to the excessive racial profiling detailed in previous sections of my paper, appeared to be arguably disinterested in hate-crimes committed against Arab and Muslim Americans, thereby hindering civil rights movements that advocated for the protection of these individuals from Islamophobic-driven backlash (Peek 31). Moreover, the Bureau’s inability to contain the leaking of critical information — concerning the agency’s stigmatizing of Arab and Muslim Americans — further exacerbated the societal isolation of these communities (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 162).

Arab and Muslim Americans contend that the FBI has not placed sufficient attention upon the rising hate crimes against their communities, arguing that “federal hate-crime statistics grossly underrepresented the actual number of anti-Islamic assaults perpetrated after 9/11” (Peek 31). Although the FBI “tallied 481 hate crimes [against Arab and Muslim Americans] in the last three months of 2001”, the Bureau has historically underrepresented hate crime statistics:

The FBI has tallied somewhere between about six thousand and ten thousand hate-crime incidents annually since it began publishing the numbers in 1992. Yet, a 2005 special report by the Department of Justice, based on an analysis of the detailed National Crime Victimization Surveys, found that the actual annual level of hate crimes average some 191,000 incidents… twenty to thirty times higher than the numbers the FBI reported each year. (Peek 31)

In addition to personal attacks, hate-crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans also involved property damage; these intrusive and violent incidents instilled apprehension within Arab and Muslim American communities, leading some to remove “Islamic or Arabic symbols from their homes and cars” in an attempt to avert prejudiced-induced attacks (Peek 98). Therefore, the inattention to hate crimes committed against Arab and Muslim Americans forced these individuals to abandon their sense of religious and ethnic identity, thereby stripping them of a defining American right: the liberty of expression.

Additionally, the Bureau’s inability to properly contain sensitive information further radicalized the popular perceptions of Arab and Muslim Americans. For instance, FBI officials leaked damaging details concerning “Muslim activists whom they had already been investigating but about whom they had not heretofore developed sufficient evidence to justify a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] request” (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 162); although “the [illicit] wiretaps produced no evidence that the targeted activists either had advance knowledge of or had conspired with the participants in the September 11 attack”, FBI officials still regarded their investigatory targets as potential menaces (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 162). The resulting disclosure of the FBI’s specific targeting of Muslim activists “serve[d] to alarm a public opinion already embittered by the brutality of militant Islamicists” (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 162). In brief, the interactions between the Bureau and media outlets — through which the FBI revealed their investigatory progress (in cases such as the one detailed above) — further distanced the Arab and Muslim American communities from their societal counterparts, as the media exacerbated the FBI’s claims and thereby induced the public’s stigmas concerning the Arabic and Islamic communities.

Conclusions Concerning the FBI’s War on Terror Policies and their Detrimental Effects

Although the FBI underwent substantial reformation following the controversies of John Edgar Hoover’s reign over the agency, the Bureau found itself mimicking its abusive Cold War policies during the course of the War on Terror. Specifically, the FBI isolated Arab and Muslim Americans through wrongful detainments, excessive surveillance, and a general disregard for the community’s welfare. As a result of the FBI’s endeavors, the greater portion of the American society essentially persecuted the Arab and Muslim American communities, as the Bureau — both directly and indirectly — fueled the public’s obsession with Islam and its supposed radicalness. For instance, “40 percent of the American population believes that extremism thrives among this [Arab/Muslim] ethnic/religious group” (Greenberg 342). Although the agency has come under greater scrutiny over the past few years, as the Bureau’s abuses have come to light, there have not been substantial structural reformations within the Bureau. Thus, we must now concentrate on exposing the systematic nature of the Bureau’s flaws, thereby attempting to prevent future targeting of marginalized entities.


The FBI’s policies during both the Cold War and the War on Terror caused substantial harm to marginalized sectors of the populace, be it social and political deviants or Arab and Muslim Americans. These respective communities — even though they were targeted sixty years apart — underwent similar hardships as a result of the Bureau’s excesses. Thus, we can conclude that there must exist certain systematic deficiencies within the FBI’s framework that foment the agency’s oppressive targeting of marginalized communities during periods of great instability.

The FBI’s Inability to Deter Zealousness Amongst its Agents

For starters, the Bureau’s promotion of an independent ideological agenda has arguably fostered zealousness amongst its agents. I must recognize that a portion of the blame should be assigned to the agency’s superiors — be it the Department of Justice or Congress — as these entities have extended the FBI’s autonomy in times of national crises (Theoharis, Abuse of Power 149; Stockham 515–516). Nonetheless, the FBI’s heads did indeed promote xenophobic ideologies during both the Cold War and the War on Terror. Hoover’s reign over the FBI is specifically controversial due to the fact that the Director’s own “xenophobic tendencies found their way into bureau policy” (Steverson 27). For instance, Hoover’s FBI sanctioned the surveillance of countless social and political movements that “had no connection in any way with a foreign intelligence movement or international revolutionary organization” (Davis 77), including pro-independence Puerto Rican groups, the Black Panthers, and the Native American Rights movement, amongst others (Carlisle 146). In a similar fashion — following the events of 9/11 — the FBI conducted controversial training sessions in which instructors were “teaching agents not only that Islam was a violent religion, but also [were] erroneously linking religiosity to terrorism” (Temple-Raston); the FBI’s instructors promoted the notion that “the more religious a Muslim in this country was, the more he should be seen as a potential suspect” (Temple-Raston). Evidently, the FBI’s institutional promotion of xenophobic ideals has fomented zealous acts amongst its agents, most notably surveillance excesses.

FBI agents have frequently been involved in controversial situations concerning their surveillance methods. During the Cold War, this included occurrences such as warrantless wiretapping, ‘Black Bag Jobs’, Employment and Tenant Blacklisting, amongst others (Greenberg 34). In the midst of the War on Terror, FBI agents infamously infiltrated mosques, Muslim and Arab community centers, and educational institutes, attempting to detect potential terrorists links amongst this specific sector of the populace (Peek 34). The most controversial issue surrounding the FBI’s surveillance tactics concerns the Bureau’s reliance on undercover informants. During the Cold War, the FBI implanted undercover informants throughout countless civil rights organizations (Fitzgerald 3); these individuals committed countless illicit acts, as zealous FBI agents even encouraged acts of violence between targeted factions (FBI, Operation Hoodwink 3). In a similar fashion, FBI agents’ infiltration of mosques has incited widespread paranoia, as their efforts have “sown a corrosive fear among their people that F.B.I. informers are everywhere, listening” (Semple and Vitello). Overall, one can definitely argue that FBI agents have certainly committed egregious acts in regards to their surveillance stratagems, as the Bureau’s men have infiltrated the most private portions of their investigatory subject’s lives, incited acts of violence and promoted widespread paranoia. The Bureau’s endorsement of xenophobic ideals played a key role in regards to the surveillance excesses of its agents, as the centralization of decision-making under both Hoover and Mueller III (Breuer 75; Peykar 57–58) basically guaranteed that the Bureau’s leadership held complete “administrative control of the agents”, and thus could influence their operational pursuits (Breuer 75). The FBI has not only internally promoted xenophobic sentiments (leading to the committing of excesses by the Bureau’s agents), as the agency has also frequently sanctioned the public discrediting of its targets.

The Bureau’s Persistent Defamation of Investigatory Subjects

Both during the Cold War and the War on Terror, the FBI discredited their investigatory subjects as a mean of justifying their seemingly oppressive operational methods (Greenberg 34). For instance, under Hoover’s administration, the FBI fashioned damaging publications in the name of civil rights organizations, distributed manufactured leaflets criticizing social and political movements and sought the media’s help in attempting to portray social and political deviants as radical menaces, thereby obtaining justification for the increased surveillance and detainment of these individuals (FBI, Puerto Rican Groups 35; Stohl 222; Navarro). In a similar manner, several contemporary FBI agents have leaked classified information concerning the Bureau’s analysis of potentially dangerous Arab and Muslim Americans, thereby fueling Islamophobic sentiments across the country (Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy 162). The motives for such leaks remain murky, but the resultant alarm of the public has certainly facilitated the FBI’s almost exclusive targeting of Arab and Muslim Americans. Overall, the Bureau’s consistent reliance on public defamation has not only tarnished the reputations of marginalized communities, but has allowed zealous FBI agents to pursue their xenophobic ventures.

Conclusion: The Present Need for FBI Reformation

I will conclude my paper by highlighting the need for the revamping of the FBI to avoid future targeting of marginalized communities. My endeavor is particularly compelling in our contemporary setting, as we are in the midst of a rising anti-Islamic tide in America, incited by the terrorist pursuits of the Islamic State. Unfortunately, Islam is continued to be associated with terrorism and radical tendencies, to the specific detriment of Arab and Muslim American communities. Specifically, the recent political tirade against Syrian refugees has set the stage for a new wave of FBI targeting policies against members of this compact group. A substantial amount of Presidential Candidates have voiced disconcerting comments concerning Syrian refugees; for instance, Ted Cruz “has proposed a law banning Muslims from Syria from seeking asylum in America, and admitting only Christians” (“Unfinest hour”); even supposedly more moderate candidates, such as Jeb Bush, urged the Federal Administration to solely admit Syrian refugees that “ ‘clearly aren’t going to be terrorists’ ” citing Christians and orphans as exemplars (“How to fight back”). Overall, “in voters’ minds, Islamic terrorism and large-scale immigration seem to blend together”, a dangerous association that will solely hinder efforts aimed at incorporating Syrian refugees (“How to fight back”). Thus, we must ensure that the FBI does not endorse this defamatory view of Syrian immigrants, but rather counters the excessively xenophobic commands of presidential contenders. In order to do so, the Bureau’s systematic flaws must be repaired in the near future; the FBI’s prior inability to contain zealousness amongst its agents, and the agency’s reputation for publicly defaming marginalized communities foreshadows a grim future for Syrian refugees if the Bureau’s flaws are not addressed. If the FBI’s issues are left unattended, we may soon experience a revival of the Bureau’s Cold War and War on Terror discriminatory endeavors.


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[1] Although I will detail the FBI’s Cold War endeavors in a later portion of my essay, please refer to Ivan Greenberg’s “Counterintelligence” Methods section of Dangers of Dissent: The FBI and Civil Liberties since 1965 (pages 33–45), which succinctly describes the entire illicit ventures of the Bureau during the course of the Cold War.