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9th Circuit Revives Muslim Spying Case Against FBI

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 01, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Farouk al-Aziz attended the Islamic Center of Irvine, publicly declaring his Muslim faith during prayer with hundreds of other members.

But there were a couple of things wrong with that: his real name was Craig Monteilh, and he was a government informant. The Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted him to gather information for a counterterrorism investigation.

In Fazaga v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Muslims filed a class-action over the FBI's spying in their places of worship and elsewhere. Reversing a trial court, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said they have a case.

Muslim Spying

The FBI investigation started to fall apart in 2007, when Monteilh said he was ready to engage in violence. A mosque leader reported him to police.

Meanwhile, the Irvine mosque obtained a restraining order against Monteilh and learned that he was an informant. The class plaintiffs then filed their case alleging illegal spying under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other violations.

A trial judge dismissed most of their claims based on state secrets. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part.

"We conclude that some of the claims dismissed on state secrets grounds should not have been dismissed outright," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the appellate court. "Instead, the district court should have reviewed any state secrets evidence necessary for a determination of whether the alleged surveillance was unlawful following the secrecy protective procedure set forth in FISA."

State Secrets

In the FBI investigation, Monteilh targeted specific people and encouraged them to visit "jihadist" websites. He tried to get compromising information to use to enlist other informants.

According to reports, he recorded virtually all of his conversations on a cell phone, a hidden camera, or key fobs with audio recording features.

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