The head of the Detroit FBI sought to reassure metro Detroit’s Arab-American and Muslim communities Wednesday in the wake of a report that the agency flew a spy plane over Dearborn.
Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit office Paul Abbate met with Arab-American leaders in Dearborn at the office of the Arab-American News along with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Dearborn City Councilman Mike Sareini.
Several Arab-American groups released statements denouncing fly-overs.
Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, said some local residents are “very nervous about the FBI, ICE, everybody related to the government. They’ve been harassed at borders, harassed at airports, harassed at home. They’ve been told over and over that they are a terrorist, and they are treated as such.”
But the FBI released a statement saying the agency does not target any group or region because of their ethnic or religious background. Abbate said that the FBI routinely uses airplanes for specific surveillance and does not conduct mass surveillance.
“We do not target specific communities,” Abbate said. He added that the FBI is “not aware of any specific or credible threat to the Detroit metropolitan area.”
Abbate did not comment on records that show a small plane circling around Dearborn over the weekend.
A 2010 single-engine Cessna, registration number N102BR, can be seen on flightradar24.com on Saturday from roughly 7:30 pm. to 9 p.m., taking a flight path from the Harrison Township area then across Wayne County to southwest Dearborn, where it circles about 19 times before turning north.
A similar flight is taken Sunday evening, over an area including the Henry Ford Museum, Fairlane Green shopping center and a number of surrounding neighborhoods.
The area of Dearborn that the plane circled over includes a mosque, the American Moslem Center, but is not as heavily populated by Muslims as is the eastern section of Dearborn.
The plane is registered to OTV Leasing of Bristow, Va., records show. The Associated Press reported last spring that dozens of airplanes associated with the FBI were using fake companies with post-office boxes in Bristow, about an hour’s drive from FBI headquarters. The AP investigation listed OTV Leasing among at least 13 fake companies used by the FBI, the Detroit News reports.
More than 40% of Dearborn’s population has roots in the Middle East, the highest concentration among all cities in the U.S. Most of them are Muslim. A year ago, Arab-American groups expressed concern when a report compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center listed the city as second only to New York City among communities with the highest number of terrorists, or those tied to terrorists.
The FBI Detroit office issued a statement today:
“Contrary to the suggestion of some recent media reporting, the FBI does not employ aviation assets to conduct mass surveillance nor to target specific communities. Neither does the FBI monitor lawfully protected First Amendment activity. Further, the FBI Detroit Field Office is not aware of any specific or credible threats within the local Detroit metropolitan area,” said the statement.
Abbate told the Free Press that “it’s no secret” that the FBI uses airplanes sometimes.
The statement explained: “As stated in the June 4th, 2015 release from the FBI National Press Office, the FBI routinely uses aviation assets in support of lawful, predicated investigations targeting specific individuals and, when requested and appropriate, in support of state and local law enforcement.
“The use of aviation assets is strictly regulated and governed through rigorous oversight by DOJ and in full compliance with the Attorney General Guidelines and the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. The FAA is fully aware and supportive of this practice.”
Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, chair of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said the best security comes from citizens working with law enforcement, rather than law enforcement working unilaterally.
“We were a little bit surprised” to hear of the flyovers, he said. “I’d like to reserve judgment until we get further details of what transpired.”
The Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn called for an investigation into the airplane over Dearborn. Its chairman, Nabih Ayad, said: “The right to privacy is a fundamental American value enshrined in the Constitution and protected by the Bill of Rights…While we absolutely acknowledge the great work that the FBI does in protecting us every day, we also expect the FBI to lead by example in protecting our privacy from unreasonable searches. We can work together as Americans to seek that balance between personal privacy and security.”
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it was concerned and intended to file a complaint. The Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also expressed alarm, saying in a statement: “The use of government aircraft to conduct profiling of a religious or ethnic community without probable cause is unconstitutional and harmful to the entire Dearborn community.”
Other Arab-Americans in Dearborn didn’t mind the airplane.
“I’m all for any governmental activities that will make us safer,” said Majed Moughni, a Dearborn attorney. “If spying will lead to an arrest, so be it. We are law abiding citizens who have nothing to hide.”
Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
Contact Robert Allen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rallenMI