Mixed Ruling in Lawsuit Seeking To Shed Light On FBI Investigation Manual

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December 1, 2011

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking disclosure of parts of the FBI’s domestic surveillance manual received a mixed decision from a federal judge on Nov. 10, 2011. Filed by Muslim Advocates, the lawsuit claimed that when the FBI invited them and other groups to review the FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) in November 2008, they had waived their right to withhold the information under FOIA rules. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected this argument, saying, "The court is not convinced that such a limited review is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the public-domain doctrine.” However, he also ruled that the FBI’s “nearly wholesale redaction” of Chapter 16 of the DIOGs, a chapter about "undisclosed participation" by undercover FBI informants in community and religious groups, was enough to have the “government to submit a more specific affidavit providing additional details in support of its extensive redactions in this chapter.”

"The court got it right when it ordered the FBI to provide specific details to support its wholesale redaction of Chapter 16, which governs the use of undercover FBI agents and informants in mosques, churches, synagogues and other religious and political gatherings,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director  Farhana Khera in a statement emailed to Politico. "Given the continued revelations of law enforcement infiltration of mosques, student groups and businesses, without evidence of criminal activity, we remain hopeful that the court will find that the FBI has over-reached and order that this chapter be released in its entirety," she added.
Although unavailable to the public, reports indicate the DOIG grants FBI agents the power to use surveillance teams to investigate individuals and organizations without a search warrant, the opening of a formal investigation, or any evidence of prior wrongdoing. 
 A Justice Department spokesman said its lawyers are reviewing Sullivan's ruling and have no further comment at this time.