The FBI has been using the No Fly List to coerce American Muslims into working for the agency as informants, according to an incendiary new lawsuit filed in Manhattan court this week.
The lawsuit, spearheaded by CUNY School of Law's CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) and the Center for Constitutional Rights, was filed on the behalf of four American Muslim men claiming their civil rights were infringed upon by the FBI. The men have either alleged they were placed on the No Fly List after refusing to spy for the FBI, and then told they would be removed from the list if they turned informant; or they say they were already on the list and the FBI offered to take them off it in exchange for their informant services.
According to the complaint [pdf], one plaintiff, Bronx resident and U.S. citizen Jameel Algibhah, found himself on the No Fly List "after he declined a request from FBI agents to attend certain mosques, to act 'extremist,' and to participate in online Islamic forums and report back to the FBI agents." Later, those same agents allegedly told Algibhah they could only remove him from the list if he agreed to act as an informant. Algibhah refused again, and as a result, he has been unable to visit his family in Yemen since 2009.
Another plaintiff, Connecticut resident and lawful U.S. permanent resident Naveed Shinwari, says he was placed on the No Fly List after refusing an FBI request to provide information on his Muslim community. Shinwari was later barred from boarding a flight to Orlando, where he had found work. FBI agents allegedly told him they could remove him from the list, but only if he agreed to become an informant; like Algibhah, Shinwari refused.
"The No Fly List is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” Professor Ramzi Kassem, the supervising attorney at CLEAR, said in a statement. “The practice borders on extortion, but it should come as no surprise when the government is allowed to compile secret watchlists that strip away the freedom to travel without giving people any notice or hearing."
The lawsuit asserts that the FBI violated the plaintiffs' First Amendment right not to become an informant, and that the No Fly List is itself a violation of the Constitution's Due Process Clause, considering the government can place someone on the list without providing them with notice or ability to challenge that placement.
"You file a DHS-TRIP complaint and you get a stock response back that neither confirms nor denies whether you're on the No Fly List, or whether you've been taken off it or are able to fly," Diala Shamas, staff attorney with CLEAR project, told us. "It's that lack of due process that makes the No Fly List so ripe for abuse. Agents exploit the fact that you can put someone on it with no meaningful review, using it to coerce our plaintiffs to become informants for the FBI."
According to Shamas, none of the four plaintiffs have any criminal history or pose any threat in flight. "If anything, the fact that the agents would offer to remove them from the list shows they don't pose any threat to aviation safety," she said. "We view this as one particularly problematic set of practices that are part of the broader over-policing of American Muslim communities. FBI agents have all sorts of incentives to recruit informants. it's no surprise that they're turning to the no fly list, it's a really powerful tool to meet that end."