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Volume 3, No 3, Summer 1993 [back]

If They Knock on Your Door


It is not unusual for federal agencies to conduct investigations of individuals and organizations that actively oppose United States policy in the Muslim World. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary agency responsible for political intelligence gathering of this kind. In the case of non-citizens, these investigations are routinely undertaken in cooperation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Those most likely to be visited by the FBI in the Muslim context are individuals believed to be close to foreign governments and political movements hostile to Israel or other states allied to the U.S.

Persons who routinely visit embassies of foreign states that the US considers unfriendly to its interests are likely to be contacted at some point by the FBI.

Occasionally, the FBI will also seek out persons holding leadership positions in national organizations which oppose US policy towards the region. These investigations are relatively infrequent and normally occur in the context of a major regional upheaval in which the US has become directly involved, as in Iraq during 1990 and 1991.

Standard FBI procedure is to send one or more agents on an unannounced visit to one's residence or place of business. Sometimes they will dispatch two of them to play "good cop--bad cop" roles, with one agent exhibiting a belligerent, harassing attitude while his colleague assumes a cordial, friendly demeanor. And often, those who refuse to talk to the FBI are subjected to repeat visits and telephone calls designed to intimidate. These tactics should be resisted. Instead, if this happens to you, contact your lawyer for advice. If you do not have a lawyer, notify our office and we will help you find one.

You do not have to talk to the FBI, even if you are not a citizen of the United States. Unless they have obtained a search or arrest warrant, you are under no obligation to permit them entry into your home or office.

If they tell you they have a warrant, demand to see their identification and the warrant before permitting access, in order to be certain they are who they claim to be. Even if they do have a valid warrant, you should under no circumstances answer any of their questions until your lawyer can be present.

If you do not wish to talk to the FBI, it cannot be held against you. This is usually the wisest course of action. If you answer one question, other questions will follow, and it becomes progressively more difficult not to answer. Of course, it is a serious crime to lie or provide false information to the FBI agents.

FBI agents are trained investigators. Do not think you can outsmart them in an attempt to discover their purpose and the nature of information they have already obtained about you.

Do not worry about appearing impolite or uncooperative in declining to be questioned by the FBI. Talking freely and openly out of fear or in an effort to appear cordial is not the best way to behave in the presence of FBI agents. To the contrary, it only encourages them to delve even deeper into your personal affairs and political associations.

Do not allow them to intimidate you into agreeing to be questioned on the spot. Your decision about whether or not to talk to them is one you should be able to make free of pressure, after you have thoroughly analyzed the situation in consultation with your lawyer.

If you do not wish to talk to the FBI, simply tell them you have nothing to say to them, and send them on their way.

If you are considering talking to the FBI, do not, under any circumstances, impulsively invite them inside your home or office. Instead, ask them for identification and a business card, on which you will find their name, agency, address, and telephone number.

Tell the agent that your lawyer will contact the FBI office to schedule an appointment for you, at which your lawyer can be present with you. If they ask you for the name of your lawyer, simply tell them you do not wish to answer any questions at this time. After they leave, make a written record of the date and time of the visit and of what was said.

The interview should take place at the local FBI headquarters, not in your home or office, nor at a public place. Allowing the FBI into your home or office might provide them with insights you might not want to share with federal agents, by way of books or papers which might be on display. It may also invite criminal charges on small, widely practiced offenses, such as infringements of copyright laws, for instance, if you happen to have duplicated audio cassette tapes or similar items which may be within the range of view. Lastly, if they were intending to investigate you further, it is probable that they would take the opportunity to place a listening device somewhere in your home or office during their visit.

Meeting in a public place is not advisable because it is impossible to know who might be listening in, and because the agent will not be able to tape record your conversation. Instead, he or she will be forced to take notes, and notes are not always accurate. Any interview with the FBI should be tape recorded, for your protection, in case you are ever accused of providing false information to agents of the federal government. You might even want to bring your own tape recorder and record the conversation yourself.

Do not, under any circumstances, go to an FBI interview without your lawyer. Your lawyer is there to advise you and protect your rights. The very presence of your lawyer will moderate the behavior of the interviewers, who might otherwise violate your rights or try to intimidate you. They might, for example, ask you questions about your political or religious beliefs, which are clearly none of their business.

Even if you have agreed to be interviewed, you are not required to answer every question. If you do not wish to respond to a particular question, simply tell them that you have nothing to say on that subject. You might also want to ask your lawyer to write a letter to the FBI requesting, in advance, a written copy of the questions which are to be asked by the FBI interviewers.

Do not answer any questions concerning the beliefs, activities, or personal lives of your political associates. To do so would be a violation of their privacy, trust, and shared principles, and it could also lead to an FBI decision to investigate them more thoroughly. It is also very likely that the FBI would pass along this type of information to foreign intelligence services that may wish to disrupt your political activities. If you are asked about the affairs of your associates, which is one of the most common types of questions, simply tell them that you have nothing to say on the subject of anyone other than yourself.

If you are visited by FBI agents, report the contact to our office immediately so that we may document the visit and advise you further on how to proceed.

For additional information, call or write:

The American Muslim Council (AMC)
1212 New York Ave. NW
WASHINGTON, DC 20005-3987
Tel: (202) 789-2262 Tel: (212) 614-6464

©1993 anadolu
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