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Posted at 1:43 PM ET, 10/13/2010

Afifi wants his congressman's help with FBI bug

By Jeff Stein

Yasir Afifi, the young Arab American in California who discovered an FBI tracking device on his car, hopes his local congressman, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), will help him find out why he was being followed.

Afifi’s attorney told SpyTalk Tuesday night that she was drafting a letter to Honda asking him to meet personally with her client and then hopefully “put some pressure on the FBI to explain its practices.”

Honda’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week Afifi retained Zahar Billoo, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, an advocacy group, to represent him. Earlier reports suggesting that the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California was taking his case were erroneous.

The ACLU, joined by the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly, filed a lawsuit back in August to expedite the release of FBI records on the investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area.

Billoo said in a telephone interview that she was also preparing a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI documents related to her client, but she conceded she did not expect to receive anything revelatory in the near future, if ever.

Government documents related to national security issues are notoriously difficult to obtain and often released with most of their text blacked out.

Billoo maintains that the FBI’s electronic monitoring of Affifi was “unreasonable” and “an invasion of his privacy.”

The FBI, she charged, was “wasting tax dollars” by tracking Affifi and “not pursuing serious suspects.”

The San Francisco FBI office has declined to comment on the matter, "because it’s still an ongoing investigation," according to Wired magazine, which broke the story of the tracking device last week.

The FBI’s interest in Afifi may stem from his father, a U.S. citizen and former president of the local Muslim Community Association who moved his family to Egypt in 2003, Wired said.

Afifi, now 20, returned to the United States alone in 2008 to continue his studies, according to reports. Now an international sales manager of laptops and computers for Cal Micro in San Jose, he travels often, Wired’s Kim Zetter reported. When FBI agents showed up at his home to demand the tracking device back, they indicated that they knew he was planning a trip to Dubai.

Billoo said whatever the FBI’s suspicions about Afifi, it should be required to obtain a warrant to place a tracking device on his car.

“Whether they can surveil him like that is a gray area of the law,” she said.

Indeed, California’s Ninth Circuit court recently ruled that no warrant is required for tracking devices, while the D.C. circuit said that it is. The matter is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court, legal observers said.

In the meantime, Afifi may well find a strong ally in Honda, a five-term liberal Democrat who has a strong record on civil liberties.

By Jeff Stein  | October 13, 2010; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI  
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You cannot put a bumper strip on my car without my permission. You cannot squeegee the dirt off my windshield without my perission. You cannot put a GPS tracking device on my bumper without my permission... unless you have a court order.

Posted by: blasmaic | October 13, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

You hope, Blasmaic, you hope. But when the FBI says something is being done for "national security" purposes, the judiciary is expected to shut up and aquiesce.

Posted by: northgs | October 13, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Well, my cellular phone sends back GPS data that is used to measure traffic flow online. Yours does too. That's what makes online traffic maps so accurate. If they can tap a phone they can also track the phone's location, which is better than a GPS on a bumper.

Posted by: blasmaic | October 13, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Curious and naive that the FBI agents would show up and ask for return of their clunky "bug."

Behind the scenes, the FBI perhaps got some "fast track" just-check-the-yes-box judicial warrant, based on some reports citing grounds for suspicion and alert. Suspicion can't be a clear-cut yes/no "beyond a reasonable doubt thing."

Well, a 20 year-old who travels a lot, and related to a family apparently alienated from the US, may be only part of the story. Might the father have left the US in 2003 after a falling out with the US, or even the local mosque, following 9/11? Did someone tell the FBI the father was an Islamic Brotherhood follower, an apologist for "martyrdom" against the US, or fan of Qtub? Or did the FBI simply pick Afifi out of the phone book because his first name "rang a bell"?

In any case, release of FBI records of all counter-terror surveillance could divulge names of informants whom CAIR will vindictively black list in some fatwa.

The article says that Afifi might get a reply from Congressman Honda, because he is "a five-term liberal Democrat who has a strong record on civil liberties."

This insinuates that a Tea Party GOP congressman would, would dodge the issue, or that Honda's electoral opponent (or the PAC mouthpiece) might support "bug" devices to track "those people." Marc Thiessen may argue it would be more efficient to go directly to abduction to remote locations and "enhanced interrogation."

The right solution is for an independent judge to confidentially review the FBI's authorization or lack thereof. The FBI should also update its "bug" technology, which appears about 40 years obsolete.

Posted by: jkoch2 | October 13, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Actually, it says that he may find an ally in Honda, not that he "might get a reply."

This insinuates that because of his history in fighting for civil liberties, that he would be more inclined to.... fight for Afifi's civil liberties. Were his rep a person without a history of fighting for civil liberties, then they might not have the same hope.

Posted by: JoshC121 | October 13, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

W placed it, and Obama uses it.

The Constitution understood the dangers of what one man might do in the name of safety during a war, the next might abuse as the hidden agenda.

Let them follow around suspects today, since the headlines keep talking about beheadings, honor killings, packages at Nuke plants, and deadly food in DC, with our Obama border corridors wide open.

Posted by: dottydo | October 13, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

This fellow is identified as an Arab American. He probably does not want to assimilate into our culture. He is either with us or against us.

Posted by: lllh | October 13, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

lllh: Are Jews who put Israel ahead of the US with us or against us?

Are Catholics who put the Pope ahead of the US with us or against us?

Are christians who put Jesus ahead of the US with us or against us?

Posted by: Garak | October 13, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

I bought a used Honda and it, too, had a tracking device. LoJack instaslled by a previous owner. Most cars these days have tracking devices already built in; the ads for them portray it as a positive feature. And most drivers carry a personal trackinbg device, called a cell-phone. And I doubt an FBI-emplaced tracking device would have "installed by the FBI" stamped on it.
I see a bit of paranoia here, and a hungry lawyer trying to make something out of nothing.

Posted by: DCNative41 | October 13, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

illh_ Uhh, he was born here, thus a citizen worthy of protection. Even ignorant comments like yours are protected in the United States of America, unlike the currne Nobel recipient in China, who made intelligent comments (free press and free elections)and got eleven years in prison.

With or against what?

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | October 13, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

After he removed it he should have just attached it to an FBI vehicle so they could chase each other. Failing that, perhaps a cross country bus.

Posted by: lemondog | October 13, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

The usual shrieks and howls from CAIR and the ACLU. This is really B.S. over nothing. This reads like manufactured controversy. This will be feeding upon itself until it wears itself out.
Let's call it Professional Indignation.

Posted by: CharlesGriffith1 | October 13, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Big Brothers (FBI, NSA,CIA and so many govt agencies) are not only watching us, they also give the finger at the Law of the land.

When spies start behaving this way toward the citizens, just forget democracy and the right to privacy, and brace yourself for more inquistive and fascist measures.

Posted by: benkad | October 13, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Our country is becoming more like East Germany before the wall crumbled. We have many federal agencies that are duplications of state agencies, with people being paid with other people's money to destroy our liberty through intimidation and destabilization techniques used by Yuri Bezmenov, ex KGB agent, as seen on YouTube.

Posted by: nifongnation | October 14, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: hemantindiamaruti | October 15, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse

THe heck with Afifi, he's a Muslim we are at war with Muslim extremist.. So it's logical we investigate Muslims till this war is over.

Posted by: RodentKing | October 15, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Afifi looks suspicious..

Posted by: RodentKing | October 15, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

The argument that "As long as the GPS devices are attached to vehicles on public roads... no warrant is needed", is not just frivolous, it's downright silly... And any justice who makes such a ruling needs to be removed from the bench. We are NOT talking about "satellite" surveilance and tracking.

There is no difference in the planting of a surveilance device in someone's house or office, or on someone's PRIVATELY OWNED automobile! It is tantamount to seizure and conversion of use. The FBI has no more right to attach something to my automobile than some businees has to glue advertising stickers on my car to advertise their business, even if they glue them on while I'm parked at a shopping center. No one, without a court order, has the right to take use of my property without my permission, no matter how much more convenient doing so makes their job.

Posted by: Afriend | October 16, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

According to the Associated Press Oct. 16, 2010:

- Yasir Afifi is a a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student

- FBI agents did go to Afifi’s Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device

- Afifi’s father was a well-known Islamic-American community leader who died last year in Egypt

- His attorney Zahra Biloo, stated Afifi has extensive ties to the Middle East, which include supporting two brothers who live in Egypt and making frequent overseas trips

How many 20 year olds do you know who have "extensive ties to the Middle East" and have the time and means to make "frequent overseas trips" to the Middle East while a full time student and employed?

Sounds pretty suspicious, doesn't it?

Posted by: Leftshot | October 16, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

This 20 year old full time college student and part time computer salesman also seems to have enough money to support himself in Silicon Valley, pay for frequent trips to the Middle East AND provide financial support to his two teenage brothers who live in Egypt. REALLY??? What is he selling Crays?

Posted by: Leftshot | October 16, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

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