2013-09-20 by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle" [sfgate.com/nation/article/FBI-reports-show-widespread-domestic-surveillance-4828272.php]:
FBI files for a government antiterrorism program include a report that, in October 2010, someone saw "suspicious ME (Middle Eastern) males buy several large pallets of water" in Bakersfield.
The FBI's records of Suspicious Activity Reports also include descriptions of a woman taking photos of the post office in Folsom (Sacramento County), Middle Eastern men taking "suspicious photography" of the federal courthouse in Sacramento, someone taking a picture of a bridge across the American River bike trail, and another Middle Eastern man applying for a pilot's license in Sacramento.
The records were disclosed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian Law Caucus, which obtained 1,800 Suspicious Activity Reports received by joint federal-state law enforcement centers in Sacramento and Los Angeles between June 2010 and June 2012.
The ACLU said the Bay Area's Northern California Regional Intelligence Center has refused to release similar records.
The reports from local law enforcement officers and private citizens are referred to regional "fusion centers," information-sharing offices jointly managed by the Justice Department and Homeland Security since 2003 and the subject of critical government audits. In many cases - like the water-buying, photography and pilot's application reports - the FBI finds the documents suitable for a database on possible terrorist activities.
The latest disclosures reveal "domestic spying programs that target racial and religious minorities who have engaged in no wrongdoing," Linda Lye, an ACLU attorney, said at a news conference in San Francisco.
'Useless information' -
An October 2012 report by a Senate committee found that the 70 fusion centers nationwide had produced "predominantly useless information," had flouted federal guidelines on collecting personal information, and had not uncovered any terrorist plots.
In a letter Thursday to Attorney General Eric Holder and the office of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, the ACLU and 26 other civil rights, minority and media advocacy organizations asked them to bar federal agencies from compiling such reports on identified individuals without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
The letter also said photography and other constitutionally protected newsgathering and information-collecting should not be considered "suspicious activity."
Hal Bergman, a freelance photographer from Los Angeles, recounted an incident about five years ago in which he was assigned to take pictures of industrial sites at the Port of Los Angeles. White was photographing a refinery from a public sidewalk, he said, a security guard questioned him and took down his license plate number, and two weeks later two FBI agents showed up at his apartment.
The agents had "a large stack of paperwork" and "said they were following up on a report of suspicious activities," Bergman, 29, said at the news conference. Though they left without telling him he'd done anything wrong, he said, he remains concerned about a record that could cause him problems in the future.
Political activities -
Some of the Suspicious Activity Reports released Thursday appeared to involve political actions, such as a scheduled July 2012 demonstration against "excessive force by law enforcement officers" at an unspecified location in Central California. Another report, labeled "inmate radicalization," said a search at a cell of an unidentified state prison found a copy of a book by black militant George Jackson. It was not clear whether either document reached the FBI's files.
Other reports described a neighbor "speaking excitedly in a foreign-language" to a group of "young, clean-cut Middle Eastern males," and an increase in the number of veiled Middle Eastern women seen at a Sacramento-area shopping mall.
Yaman Salahi, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, said the reporting program was "an affront to the dignity of community members."
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.