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Hidden Loopholes Allow FBI Agents to Infiltrate Political and Religious Groups

Hidden Loopholes Allow FBI Agents to Infiltrate Political and Religious Groups

The Intercept

 Using loopholes it has kept secret for years, the FBI can in certain circumstances bypass its own rules in order to send undercover agents or informants into political and religious organizations, as well as schools, clubs, and businesses.

If the FBI had its way, the infiltration loopholes would still be secret. They are detailed in a mammoth document obtained by The Intercept, an uncensored version of the bureau’s governing rulebook, the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG. The 2011 edition of the book, which covers everything from wiretapping to how to read Miranda rights, was made public in redacted form thanks to a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups. Beneath the FBI’s redaction marks were exceptions to rules on “undisclosed participation” that could be easy to exploit.

The FBI rules show a significant level of oversight when it comes to looking into “sensitive” groups — namely, those with religious, political, or academic affiliations. For instance, if an undercover agent wants to pose as a university student and take classes, or if an FBI handler wants to tell an informant to attend religious services — two examples straight out of the rulebook — he or she must obtain a supervisor’s approval and attest both to the operation’s importance and to its compliance with constitutional safeguards.

But all those rules go out the window if an agent decides the group is “illegitimate” or an informant spies on the group of his or her own accord.

The FBI insists that supervisors regularly review agents’ work to make sure these exceptions aren’t being misused, and that the extra steps and approvals detailed in the guide are proof that the bureau has voluntarily limited its authorities beyond what it believes to be the legal minimum.

An FBI spokesperson said that a provision in the DIOG encourages agents to err on the side of considering something sensitive if there is any doubt.

“That discretion will be part of our regular case review. Agents will be asked, ‘Hey, why isn’t that a sensitive investigative matter?’” the spokesperson said.

But civil rights groups still worry that the FBI has made use of precisely these kinds of loopholes, silently undermining cherished freedoms enshrined after a dark chapter of FBI history: the COINTELPRO program in the 1950s and ’60s, when the FBI spied on, harassed, and tried to discredit leftists, civil rights leaders, and anti-war protestors. The exposure of COINTELPRO led to a famous Senate investigation and to institutional reform. The bureau adopted new rules and stricter oversight. Since 9/11, however, these hard-won protections have been weakened. What the public has not known is by exactly how much.

“Going into political gatherings, houses of worship — these are First Amendment-protected activities,” said Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, a group that originally sued to have the rulebook released, particularly over concerns about the issue of undercover infiltration. “We believed the DIOG to be a broadening of their authority to go into those spaces.”

The FBI sees it exactly the other way…Read More at

The Intercept

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