Is Obama giving mosques a special exemption from surveillance?

Investors Business Daily has an incredibly inflammatory article taking advantage of the recent uproar about the NSA’s broad spying programs to assert that Muslims are being given a special exemption from government eavesdropping. The claim is incredibly similar to a right-wing myth spread about a supposed “Muslim exception” from TSA screenings that happened to pop up at the same time as the TSA’s “enhanced pat-down” provoked a media firestorm and popular outrage.

The IBD piece asserts that:

The White House assures that tracking our every phone call and keystroke is to stop terrorists, and yet it won’t snoop in mosques, where the terrorists are. That’s right, the government’s sweeping surveillance of our most private communications excludes the jihad factories where homegrown terrorists are radicalized. Since October 2011, mosques have been off-limits to FBI agents. No more surveillance or undercover string operations without high-level approval from a special oversight body at the Justice Department dubbed the Sensitive Operations Review Committee.

Here is the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide from October 2011, p. 171:

Certain investigative matters should be brought to the attention of FBI management and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials because of the possibility of public notoriety and sensitivity. Accordingly, Assessments and Predicated Investigations involving “sensitive investigative matters” have special approval and reporting requirements.
[...]
A sensitive investigative matter (SIM) is defined as an investigative matter involving the activities of a domestic public official or domestic political candidate (involving corruption or a threat to the national security), a religious or domestic political organization or individual prominent in such an organization, or the news media; an investigative matter having an academic nexus; or any other matter which, in the judgment of the official authorizing the investigation, should be brought to the attention of FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ) and other DOJ officials.

Sections of the document concerning the Sensitive Operations Review Committee (SORC) are heavily redacted so as to be unreadable. But the gist of the above text is that, yes, there are certain investigations which are considered more “sensitive” than others and this includes investigations of Islamic groups. But here’s the thing: this also applies to all religious and political groups as well as the news media and academic institutions. So the FBI would most likely face the same hurdles investigating a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue as it would in investigating a mosque.

Hilariously, the IBD editorial makes it sound as if the Sensitive Operations Review Committee was a recent creation of the Obama administration “set up under pressure from Islamist groups who complained about FBI stings at mosques.” Yet the name of the committee also appears in the 2008 FBI domestic operations guide as well, meaning it was either created under Bush or an earlier administration.

It is doubtful that the IBD allegation contains even a shred of truth. The publication has previously made the false assertion that Obama offered to apologize for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as if that would be a bad thing!) based on a willful misreading of a Wikileaks cable. Additionally, the complaints made by groups like CAIR and the ACLU about the FBI nosing around mosques and attempting to stir up trouble with provacateurs do not lack merit.

Predictably, the ludicrous idea that Muslims are exempt from the Obama administration’s numerous spying programs is now catching on in the right-wing puke funnel. It is an especially cruel myth to promote since Muslims have faced some of the worst civil liberties violations in the US in modern times. Apparently, the only way the right-wing can get outraged by government surveillance is by imagining red-blooded, white, patriotic Christians such as themselves as the primary target.