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Edward Ahmed Mitchell on the Private Surveillance of Muslim-Americans [transcript]

The CAIR spy scandal and its larger implications

In this episode of Failed State Update, J.G. Michael speaks with Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Deputy Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations about a scandal involving CAIR's Ohio chapter and a right-wing outfit called the Investigative Project on Terrorism. There is evidence that IPT has been spying on Muslim-American activists and working with the state of Israel to target American students activists. It's a bombshell story, one that's only going to get crazier as more details emerge.

For more information, check out J.G.'s recent article on Failed State Update, Private Sector Snoops Caught Spying on Muslim Activists in the United States.

Note: This is a rush transcript. Please refer to the original podcast when quoting.

JOSEPH L. FLATLEY: Hi. This is Joseph L Flatley, and you are listening to Failed State Update. I am with my co-host, JG Michael. How you doing, JG?

J.G. MICHAEL: Pretty good, pretty good. Just working as much as possible. There is a lot of news to be covered. And I'm glad that we're going to be covering a story that I was very interested in, and I wrote something for Failed State Update, on this edition of the show.

JLF: And JG, you have been covering the Ukraine crisis quite heavily on your other podcast, Parallax Views.

JGM: That's true. It's apparently something none of us can escape from — not that we should. But I'm having mixed feelings on it. Because it's not the only story in the world happening right now. But by the looks of it, some people could easily surmise that it is the only story happening, but I think it's definitely an important one to cover.

JLF: I've been meaning to ask you. I'm just curious, you know, we haven't been covering it heavily on the website. Just because we kind of made a statement, we ran an interview you did with Eric Draitser, which I think really summed up the whole issue for me, which is obviously Russia committed a war crime or is committing several war crimes, and the invasion is flat out wrong, no matter which way you look at it. But, you know, to some people on the left, not too many people and kind of the kookier ones anyways, have come out to support Putin in a really bizarre way. So stuff like that, in my mind is worth covering, but the day-by-day, drums of war, troop movements and stuff, you know, there's publications that do it better than Failed State Update, you know, like War on the Rocks or something. But also, I think there's a danger where Ukraine is not like this lily-white, perfectly innocent state. There's no better cause in my mind than pushing Russia back over their border. It's not all black and white, you know, and I think that just as kind of like, obsessive, nonstop coverage of Ukraine is covering up a lot of shades of grey. You know, it's just black and white, as far as the mainstream media goes.

JGM: For me, some of it has gone into, like, really creepy directions. As in, I'm starting to see some commentaries even in places like the Wall Street Journal, which I guess isn't necessarily entirely surprising, but just — I'm starting to see certain elements that are very much getting into, like, what I would say is really racist "Asiatic hordes" tropes, which [if] people don't know that, that's what Hitler referred to the Russians as in World War Two. And I don't know, there's a lot of gross sort of Eurocentrism that's being invoked right now. And I don't know, I'm not liking a lot of the US response, either. But it also, I don't think we should be, you know, patting Putin on the back. I mean...

JLF: You know, what's your kind of strategy, as far as covering this thing? Have you, are you thinking of a bigger picture of like, what kind of stories need to be told versus not told? Are you just kind of like in a mad dash to talk to everybody to capture history in the making? What's your—

JGM: I actually am the mad dash guy. I don't know. I go Gonzo, you know, what was it — that line Hunter S. Thompson had? When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro? I guess I really try to go pro when things get this wild. But I guess for me, I just hope that people realize that, you know, there are still other news stories out there happening. And we shouldn't let them go by the wayside. Because this is the time where a lot of stuff is probably going to go by the wayside. I don't think we should stop covering, for instance, the atrocities happening in Yemen. And what's been done there. We also just had a story about new FBI documents concerning Omar al-Bayoumi, Saudi Arabia, and 9/11 that just came out and that's going under everyone's radar. So I think we have to take an approach where we're not, you know, focusing on this one conflict to the detriment of everything else.

JLF: We do have a story on the website that you wrote that is not Ukraine-related. It's titled, "Private Sector Snoops Caught Spying on Muslim Activists in the United States." And we're gonna play an interview with Edgar Ahmed Mitchell, from CAIR, who explains how these weird spies tried to or did infiltrate his organization. We'll play the interview in a minute, but why don't you kind of set up what the story's about before we do?

JGM: Edward Ahmed Mitchell is I believe the deputy director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He's also an attorney and a former journalist. And I recently had a chance to hear him at a conference in DC, which covers issues related to the Middle East, and especially Israel and Palestine. And he spoke about this issue of, you know, a spy within the Council on American Islamic Relations, a local chapter of it, and how this led to a group called IPT. And also even a connection to Netanyahu's office, when he was Prime Minister, in Israel. So I said, this is a juicy story. And there were mainstream media outlets covering it. But I feel like it went under a lot of people's radar still, including people in the alternative media. So I said, Oh, my God, I have to cover this. And I wrote an article for Failed State Update about it, as you mentioned, and I decided, hey, I should interview Edward on that Mitchell, because he knows the story. He's in CAIR, he has been covering this, giving lectures on it, dealing with the media when it comes to the story. And I said, Hey, I'm gonna reach out. And I got an interview with Edward Ahmed Michel, to talk about this issue of, you know, essentially what is not only Muslim Americans, not only CAIR being infiltrated, and spied upon, but you know, you even have a foreign government, in this case, Netanyahu's Israel, essentially asking their spies, or asking not asking their spies, but asking IPT who is spying on Muslim Americans, to connect student activist groups related to Palestinian justice causes, to connect them to Hamas, that's what these emails from the Prime Minister's Office in Israel seemed to indicate — that they were literally looking to find dirt that would connect a student group to Hamas. And they were trying to get IPT to help with this. I'm not sure they could dig anything up. But emails like that are actually at the center of this story. Emails were obtained that show all kinds of interactions between this group IPT (Investigative Project on Terrorism) and others, including one of the moles. And it is just a bombshell story, in my opinion. I mean, these emails are just kind of frightening.


EDWARD AHMED MITCHELL: CAIR is our nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. We were founded back in 1994. We now have about 30 chapters around the country, including 500 staff and board members, in pretty much every state where there is a significant American Muslim population. Our mission is to enhance the public's understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims to be more politically and civically engaged. You know, I'm sure you can say what the NAACP has done for African-Americans, CAIR does for American Muslims. Now, as part of our work, we are very, very vocally critical of civil rights violations here in the United States and human rights violations around the world. And that has attracted I think, as you indicated, a lot of backlash from racists and bigots and hate groups, even foreign dictatorships. We think that's a good thing. It's a sign that we're doing good work, that these people are so obsessed with us. But absolutely, we have been targeted by all manner of anti-Muslim propaganda over the past 30 years, but we're still here. We're still doing the work. And we think that the attacks on us are a testament to the importance of our civil rights work.

FAILED STATE UPDATE: That brings us to this spying scandal involving a nonprofit known as IPT. And I don't know if you want to start with that, or maybe how the story originates with a character by the name of Romin Iqbal. But take us through this.

EAM: IPT is a nonprofit organization founded by Steven Emerson, who is a right-wing, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian extremist.

FSU: Was Emerson one of these characters that supported that conspiracy theory that the Oklahoma City bombing involved Saddam's elements? Is he one of those like out there sort of characters?

EAM: Yeah, he is a notorious conspiracy theorist. So back after the Oklahoma City bombing, he essentially jumped and said that the bombing had the hallmarks of a Middle Eastern terrorist attack. And of course, later turned out it was perpetrated by an American extremist Timothy McVeigh. Mr. Emerson, you know, was, especially in the years after 9/11, very popular in right-wing circles, Fox News, even found himself on CSPAN on some occasions, and he essentially was spreading anti-Muslim propaganda that, you know, Muslims and Islam pose a threat to the American people, and that his organization Investigative Project for Terrorism was dedicated to uncovering and disrupting extremist Muslim plots. Now the problem for him is that he got too crazy, even for crazy people. So in 2015, he went around that time, he went on Fox News, and he claimed that there were Muslim "No Go Zones" in England, there were some cities in England that the police could not go to because Muslims have taken them over. He was widely condemned and criticized for that. The British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, called him quote, a complete idiot, unquote, and Mr. Emerson ended up having to apologize. After that he largely disappeared from even mainstream right-wing media. And he was kind of relegated to his little website where he would post articles and, you know, troll people. But he really stopped being a major figure in the conservative movement, at least publicly, after he humiliated himself in that way. But he didn't disappear, his organization didn't disappear. They're still operating, but just, you know, not very effective or very public anymore.

FSU: So then, could you talk about how IPT gets sort of, on your radar when it comes to this spying scandal that we're going to be talking about?

EAM: So we track you know, all major anti-Muslim hate groups, whether that's Pamela Geller, whether that's Bridget Gabriel's Act for America, whether it's Daniel Pipes, the racist Middle East Forum, you know, we track all these groups. That includes IPT. Even if we think they are flailing and not that effective, we still keep track of it because all it takes is some nut going on their website, reading this lunacy, and then pick up a gun and do something crazy. We've seen that obviously, you know, numerous incidents where people engage in violence against Muslims, and you went to look at the internet search history, who they lied to, they followed, they were following hate groups here in the United States. So we've been tracking IPT for years. Now what happened, how we found out about the spying issue is that in the fall of 2020, no, the fall of 2019, someone identifying themselves as a former employee of IPT, reached out to us and said they had information we might want to have about this hate group. This individual did not share any additional detail, and they just disappeared after sending that initial message. Fast forward a year later, they follow up with us. And they say that the information they have that we would want to know is that there is a mole somewhere inside of CAIR. Now, at this point, when we get this cryptic email, we don't panic, we're not that concerned for a few reasons. Number one, we don't know if this person is a nut, whether this is a prank, whether this is true at all. Number two, you know, we have nothing to hide. So even if there was a mole within CAIR at the end of the day, it'd be very, very, very concerning and disturbing, but it's not like we had to scramble and you know, and worry too much. 

So after that point, you know, we interacted with this individual and they started sending us information in the following months that, you know, quickly verified what they were saying. There very much likely was a mole somewhere within CAIR, that this hate group had been spying on CAIE for years, and that they had more broadly been attempting to spy on the Muslim community in general, especially major Muslim organizations and major Muslim leaders including Representative Keith Ellison. They were using according to the information we were given, their staff and paid spies to secretly record conversations among Muslim leaders, to attend Muslim events, you know, with cameras in their purses and other such things. And in the case of CAIR to actually use a paid employee of the organization to turn over emails and strategy work and recorded conversations to this hate group. And so, you know, we learned much more about that, including the hate group was working with the Israeli government, and I'm sure we'll talk about that shortly. But that's just some of what we learned in a multi-month period, eventually leading us to the name of the mole, Mr. Romin Iqbal.

FSU: And could you tell my listeners a little bit more about this saga involving Romin Iqbal? That's CAIR Ohio, right?

EAM: Yeah, exactly. So Roman Iqbal, who joined CAIR in around 2006-2007 as a staff attorney, he joined CAIR Columbus, which is a chapter of CAIR. Remember I mentioned earlier, we have about 30 chapters around the country. Some of them are state chapters, for example, CAIR New York, CAIR Florida, CAIR Minnesota. Some of them are city chapters in states that have many Muslims around the state. So there's a CAIR LA, CAIR San Diego, CAIR Sacramento, AIR San Francisco. And in Ohio, there's a CAIR Columbus, a CAIR Cincinnati, and a CAIR Cleveland. Romin Iqbal was an attorney with CAIR Columbus. And he eventually became the director of CAIR Columbus and essentially the de facto director of the CAIR Ohio organization just a few years ago in 2018. So, you know, when we eventually, you know, saw his name in one of these emails, that was in I believe, I want to say March of 2021. That was the first time we got evidence about who the actual mole was. Now, in the months before that, did we have suspicions about you know, who it could be? Yeah, we had narrowed it down, that it very likely had to be the leader of a local chapter based on the emails that had been shared with IPT. And based on the length of time the spying had been going on. But we weren't sure. In fact, I remember for me personally, I had just on my own written down a list of people who I thought could possibly be the mole, it was four names I put down. And Romin Iqbal was one of the names and I can't, I'm not even sure why I put his name down. It's kind of a gut feeling that, you know, turned out to be correct later, but we didn't have any evidence that was him until about March of 2021. 

At that point, once we had a name, we then hired an outside law firm, which brought in a forensic investigator, somebody who used to work for the intelligence community, very top notch investigator, they did a full forensic investigation of all these emails and recordings of our system. And over a multi-month period, they were able to verify that the information we had was that Romin Iqbal was spying for IPT, had been doing it for years, that it had been spying on the broader Muslim community, that they were, in fact, in communication and collaboration with the Israeli government. And so we were able to confirm all that. And then, about a few weeks after getting that report, CAIR leaders went to Ohio, quietly met with the board of CAIR Ohio, informed them of what we knew. The Ohio Board acted very quickly, within a day Romin Iqbal was informed that we knew. He was terminated or suspended, I should say, revoked all of his access to CAIR Ohio materials, and then obviously terminated shortly thereafter. And a new director was named for that chapter. So that's, you know, the Cliff Notes.

FSU: Where does IPT get its funding from? And also, is this part of a broader sort of, I would say, network of hate groups pushing Islamophobia? Because I think there really is a network out there that is spreading very vile lies, and disinformation, about the broader Muslim community, and also just specifically CAIR.

EAM: We call it the Islamophobia network, that's our name for this. This hotspot, this group of anti-Muslim organizations spread around America, who are dedicated to one thing, and that is spreading anti-Muslim propaganda, to attacking Muslims to undermining the civil rights and civil liberties of American Muslims. There are literally dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of these organizations, they're monitored not only by CAIR, but by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others, and they have a lot of funding. We're talking over $100 million, well over [that] easily on an annual basis. IPT is one of those organizations, they are considered part of the Islamophobia network. Absolutely.

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Now, where do they get their funding? IPT is a registered nonprofit organization. Some of their funding is visible, you know, if you look at some of the foundations that’s public knowledge, and so we found that some of their major funders. Anti-Palestinian, pro-Israel foundations have given them significant amounts of money over the years, including during the years that they were secretly spying on the Muslim community. We're talking, you know, $300,000 here, $50,000 there, $60,000 there — you know, a lot of money. We also know from media reporting, that allegedly IPT has at least in the past transferred money from itself, the nonprofit to SAE Productions, which is the for-profit corporation run by Steven Emerson. And we later learned of course, that SAE Productions was used to pay at least one of the spies that Emerson was using, to spy on the broader Muslim. Not the CAIE spy, but another spy in the Muslim community who was spying on other organizations. He was paid, if you look at his tax form, by SAE Productions, which is Steven Emerson's for-profit corporation. So yes, we were able to learn quite a bit about them. They are absolutely part of the Islamophobia network, and they get at least some of their funding from major mainstream anti-Palestinian, pro-Israel foundations.

FSU: With regards to this connection with Israel, how does that come to surface? And could you talk about the emails that seemed to indicate a connection between IPT and officials within the Israeli government?

EAM: Yeah, absolutely. So this was maybe one of the most shocking things of what we learned. You know, we knew that Steven Emerson is an anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim extremist. We knew that he's obviously very, very supportive of the Israeli occupation. And we could have guessed that he had some level of contact with the Israeli government. But to actually see the hard evidence of it was pretty shocking. So the whistleblower from within IPT, the person who gave us all this information also gave us emails, emails between Mr. Emerson, alleged between Mr. Emerson and Israeli intelligence officials. And in these emails, you can see the Israeli government asking Emerson for information, and Emerson offering help and giving help to the Israeli government give you a few examples. In one example, an Israeli intelligence official named [phonetic] Ido Misrahi, who worked in Prime Minister Netanyahu's office, asks Emerson, do you have any information — I’m paraphrasing — any information connecting Students for Justice in Palestine to Hamas? Now, Students for Justice in Palestine is a college student group here in the United States, a very popular student group on many college campuses. So the Israeli government is asking an American hate group and anti-Muslim hate group, if it can provide any information on American college students, any harmful information.

FSU: When I heard you give a presentation on this in DC, only a week or so ago, that just absolutely blew my mind, and just put a lot of anger in me. I felt you know, indignation, because I'm thinking to myself, they're going after college students and trying to connect them to Hamas. It's mind-blowing, it's disgusting. It's vile.

EAM: Yeah you know, it's amazing. I mean, you're right. It's a foreign government, right? A foreign government, asking an anti-Muslim hate group that is a registered nonprofit organization, to provide information about college students here in America. So it's like three levels of crazy going on here. A foreign government hate group targeting college students. But that's not all. In another email chain, Netanyahu's office asks Emerson for information about Boko Haram and Hamas. And Emerson quickly sends an email to a staff saying “urgent research request from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office,” who could work on this right away? I’m paraphrasing and get. And so you know, this is now again, a nonprofit organization in America running an errand for Israeli intelligence officials, right? Acting on behalf of, providing assistance and information to a foreign government. And in another exchange, you see Emerson mentioning that he met with an Israeli general in Tel Aviv, in you know, a few years past. And he doesn't say what they talked about, but he mentions meeting with them directly in person. Another exchange, he mentioned that he's going to send the Israeli Intel officials a new documentary that he just finished making. So it's just a very chummy relationship, and very clearly, providing assistance, receiving assistance, you know. It’s obviously very, very, very disturbing. But ultimately not truly shocking in hindsight now that we’re really thinking about it.

And then one other thing I would emphasize here, and this is very important, I should have mentioned this, is that it's not just the emails right? The whistleblower from within IPT very explicitly told us that this sort of thing was par for the course. What they said to us is that they eventually came to realize that they were lied to, they really honestly thought when they joined this organization that they were actually going after terrorists and extremists in America. And this person, the whistleblower said was that they eventually came to realize, no, that they were not targeting extremists or terrorists, they were being used to target critics of the Israeli government, they were being used, essentially, and this is their phrase, as an Israel lobbying organization that they were acting for the benefit of the Israeli government, that was IPT’s main mission and work. And the other spy who worked for IPT, the other spy who was a Muslim, said very explicitly, that IPT’s main goal is making sure that there would never be, quote, a Muslim version of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that could you know, reorient American foreign policy in a way that's more humane and just towards Palestinians. So it's very clear to us that IPT was acting for the benefit of the Israeli government. And clearly the evidence indicates that they were in touch with and in collaboration with the Israeli government.

FSU: In regards to this collaboration, I mean, does this have legal ramifications? Because I've spoken to some people like the Linda Handley, at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs that said, you know, if Emerson is doing that, this, he should have to register as collaborating with a foreign government.

EAM: I'm a former prosecutor. And I will just say this, if all the stuff that he's been doing is not illegal, it is certainly suspicious and unethical and worthy of a federal investigation. If you were acting in the United States, as an agent of a foreign government, you have to register, and if you don't, that is a federal crime. Furthermore, you know, obviously, if you are as a nonprofit organization, right, using the donations people give to you, in a way that is radically different than what people expect you to do with their donations, or if you're giving your donations, that money away to a for-profit corporation, in a way that's inappropriate, that also raises concerns about potential legal violations. So can we say he broke the law? You know, I can't say that for sure. That is for the government to investigate. And that is why over 80 Muslim organizations, every major Muslim organization in the United States is calling the Justice Department to investigate and determine whether or not IPT broke any federal laws, civil rights statutes, through their behavior. And by the way, we don't know everything they did, right. I'm sure there's so much more that they were doing that we don't know about, because we don't, you know, obviously have full access to everything going on within IPT. But just based on what we have, it is incredibly suspicious and incredibly concerning. And it certainly raises legal questions. At the very least.

FSU: I think for a lot of people, this may feel like a very complex story in the sense that you have all these different names and all these different characters, you have different organizations, you have IPT, you have Romin Iqbal. So when you're talking to media about this, is there anything that you think gets missed when the story gets translated to the public? Is there anything that you think the layperson, who may be listening to this conversation right now, should really understand, what should they take from this? And what maybe are they missing in some of the media coverage of it?

EAM: So you know, I think two key things. So one is, understand that these hate groups, the IPT, they might seem like they’re fringe, you may not have heard of them before. But if you ever wonder why anti-Muslim bigotry is so widespread among a certain segment of our population, it is because of groups like this, they literally just spend their time putting out anti-Muslim lunacy. And so for your average American who has never met a Muslim, and they go online and look up Islam, or Muslims, or even Muslim organizations like CAIR, they just end up seeing crazy stuff because of what these hate groups are putting out. And that is why anti-Muslim bigotry is so widespread. So even though these groups might seem like stupid and incompetent, they're deadly serious, number one.

Number two, I think in terms of the media, you know, what I've noticed is that mainstream media widely covered the story, but they definitely did not cover the Israeli government aspect of the story, as widely or specifically as other aspects of the story. That part of the story, for the most part, did not get as much attention, was kind of buried further down in the story. I would say one exception was the Washington Post. And some other major media outlets did get into very clearly highlight that part of it. But other media outlets, you know, I would say were much more hesitant to address that part of the story. So I think we've covered that in detail today. And I think that is important to know that you've got anti-Muslim hate groups that are in many cases motivated not only by hatred of Islam but really a hatred of Palestinians and a desire to make sure that Muslim-Americans never become politically or civilly powerful enough in this country to make our foreign policy more humane.

FSU: This, of course hits Muslim Americans the hardest, but I think even if you're not a Muslim-American stories like this should be of grave concern to us, especially if we care about human rights. I mean, to me, the smears against CAIR, you know, these very wild fringe characters that will try to accuse CAIR of being subversive or trying to work with terrorists and things like that. It's no different than the ways in which the civil rights movement was attacked by far-right elements and even the FBI with COINTELPRO. I mean, the people don't remember necessarily, but far-right elements used to attack Martin Luther King, claiming it was all part of a communist conspiracy. And we see the same thing being done today to Muslim-Americans in groups like CAIR, we see very Islamophobic attacks that are based on conspiratorial thinking and conspiracy theories.

EAM: You’re absolutely right. I mean, I say this all the time, that not only does CAIR try to do the work that other civil rights groups like the NAACP did, we experience similar attacks. And you go back to the 60s, people don't remember this now. But yeah, absolutely, people accused the NAACP, and SNCC and Dr. King of being anti-American, or being communists, or being subversives plotting to overthrow America's way of life, the same stuff that’s said about CAIR and other Muslim groups. Today, these nuts say that we're part of the Muslim Brotherhood, that we support terrorism, I mean — all the stupid stuff that has no basis in reality whatsoever. But they understand that if you repeat a lie over and over again, people start to believe it. And they've been successful. I mean, there's a large segment of the country that believes a lot of these nutty anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, they have consumed the Kool-Aid, so to speak. And so yeah, you're absolutely right. Now on the flip side, though, I would say that the NAACP is also instructive for us, because eventually, the other side lost, right? They couldn't defeat the message, so they attacked the messenger. In some cases, they literally killed the messenger. But that did not stop the message. And eventually, the NAACP was largely successful in achieving many of their goals. And now they're a widely celebrated and respected organization across the country. And I believe that one day that will be the truth for Muslim organizations as well, God willing, that these fringe hate groups will lose. That's why they're becoming so desperate, so hysterical, that they're going to lose, God willing, it's just a matter of time. But until that day comes, we are still on the battlefield with them, we are still fighting the good fight, and exposing IPT, and making sure they can never do this to another Muslim organization, again, is part of that fight.

FSU: What does this mean for civil rights activists? Because I suspect there's many activists that look at cases like this and say, Oh, my God, this makes me paranoid. How can civil rights groups keep from becoming too paranoid or getting sucked into suspicion of each other?

EAM: That's a really good question. That's something that you know, was a concern for us, when we were handling this situation. We did not want to, you know, have people within our own organization start to fear each other, you know, worry about spies in their midst. And we didn't want that to happen to the broader Muslim community. Again, IPT targeted pretty much at some point every major Muslim organization in the United States and prominent Muslim leaders. But the one thing our community could not let happen was to let that make us paranoid about each other. That's what happened to some black civil rights groups. That eventually imploded because they had infiltrators within them, who deliberately stirred the pot, deliberately tried to turn people against each other. So the organization would collapse. You know, Fred Hampton, and what happened to him is one example of that with the Black Panther Party. And so for us, I would say to civil rights groups, be vigilant. Be aware, take your security precautions, make sure you got top-rate security, technologically that you do proper background checks when you hire people. When you work with the new people, new activists, ask around and see what their history is, who else do they know, who did they work with before? Those are just basic things to do. But don't become paranoid, don't become suspicious, don't start, you know, putting people at arm's distance. We are Muslims, obviously, you know, and from a religious perspective, you know, we think back to the time when Muslims were a very small group of people being harassed and targeted and killed and had to worry about infiltration, spying, and one of the things that the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, taught us was do not be suspicious of your brothers and your sisters, you know, do not assume the worst about other people. And I think that advice is good for people of any religion, any background in any cause, that you know, you assume the best about your fellow activists, people you're working with, until you have reason to believe otherwise. So you just got to keep doing the work and know that if you're doing good work, you have nothing to fear, ultimately, from spies and saboteurs. If you're doing good work, the work speaks for itself.

FSU: For people that aren't necessarily Muslim — I, myself am not Muslim. But I take this issue very seriously. And I wanted to give you a chance to convey why we should all care about these sorts of scandals and these what these hate groups are doing.

EAM: Ultimately, I think every American should care about this, whether you're Muslim or not. Because remember, the goal of these groups, ultimately, is to deprive one particular minority group of their civil rights, of their civil liberties, of their ability to live safely in America. And it won't stop with us, right? It never does, right? These people, generation after generation, always pick some new group to attack, whether it's Catholics or Quakers or Jews or Latinos, or Black people. For us, it's a constant thing that never stops. So it will always be someone new. And so don't think that you're safe, because you're not Muslim, right? Eventually, these groups will turn on you too, if you have anything about you that makes you unique, or distinct in the society. And of course, I would argue that if any of us do not have the protections in the Constitution, then none of us really that ultimately, if anyone can be deprived of their civil rights or civil liberties, then everyone is at risk of being deprived in the same way. So if you wouldn't want someone being able to spy on your organization, your workplace, you and your fellow activists, then you shouldn't want that happen to anyone else, no matter what your particular causes.


Joseph L. Flatley: So JG, that was your conversation with Edgar Ahmed Mitchell. What kind of stands out as the main issue raised by this story of yours?

JG Michael: The part that really stood out, and you can probably tell in the interview itself, is that you had two officials with email accounts associated with Netanyahu government. And in those emails, you have one specific email in which they're literally asking IPT investigative project on terrorism, to, you know, find a way to connect Students for Justice in Palestine to Hamas, which was designated a terrorist group by the US government. And to me, it's like, wow, they're targeting a student group. And Edward on that Michel is very emphatic about that a student group, as he says —

JLF: American kids are being targeted by the State of Israel.

JGM: And I mean, it is, you know, that's pretty shocking. It's grotesque in my opinion.

JLF: And, and it's very telling. IPT, what's that even stand for?

JG: Investigative Project on Terrorism. And I think it's very telling that it's started by a guy who believes that Saddam Hussein was working with al-Qaeda to do the Oklahoma City bombing. There is something about people who believe in that conspiracy theory and who push it that just gives me the heebie-jeebies.

JLF: It's like two guys at Epoch Times, and Steven Emerson from IPT. And, just also—

JG: That guy who just wrote the Russians or Khrushchev is responsible for the JFK assassination book.

JLF: Right. Right. Right. Well, the important part about IPT is it's a nonprofit, so it's private. It's not connected to any government. It's not connected to the State of Israel. This isn't Mossad coming over. It's a nonprofit, you know, with the benefit of being a private organization. You can't FOIA it, you know, there's no Sunshine laws that cover it. So this is just a demonstration of how this kind of harassment and surveillance, these COINTELPRO tactics, have become privatized. And I just think that this IPT story is the tip of the iceberg.

JG: No doubt, no doubt. COINTELPRO’s not just for J. Edgar Hoover's FBI anymore, right?