An FBI community outreach program in Seattle received orders to gather intelligence on the Somali community, according to reports released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis.
Seattle was one of six cities targeted in a 2009 plan to use the FBI’s community outreach programs to gather intelligence on Somali immigrants, according to documents obtained and published by Michael Price, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. The order was rescinded in 2010.
While the Brennan Center report said the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area was identified as the program’s top priority, the Star-Tribune reported that the Minneapolis FBI officials told reporters it resisted the spy orders because the bureau’s outreach specialists did not want to jeopardize their relationships with community members.
Seattle FBI field office spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams told the Globalist that the FBI’s community outreach relationships are important to build trust.
“Unfortunately in Seattle, we’ve seen a number of incidents with bias crime,” she said, referring to several recent attacks on immigrant cab drivers. “It’s for things like that, so that people know that we have a commitment to investigate.”
She said in the al-Shabab case in Minneapolis, it was members of the Somali community who came to FBI agents to report that their family members had been radicalized.
“They came to us; we’re not suspicious of them. They want to protect their families,” she said.
The FBI has long had community outreach programs and fostered relationships with community groups, to provide mentorship and to build trust in law enforcement, according to the agency’s website.