Homeland security officials improperly gathered intelligence on the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group, but U.S. government rules were "unintentionally and inadvertently violated" and only publicly available information was collected, according to documents made public Wednesday.
Internal correspondence shows the 2007 report — titled "Nation of Islam: Uncertain Leadership Succession Poses Risks" — was created by an intelligence group working within the Homeland Security Department.
Hours after the report was issued, officials recalled it, deciding the report violated intelligence rules against collecting or disseminating information on U.S. citizens for an extended period of time. It had been disseminated widely over the Internet to numerous federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, several congressional committees, intelligence agencies and parts of the private sector, a reviewing officer found.
One official wrote, "the organization despite its highly volatile and extreme rhetoric has neither advocated violence nor engaged in violence" and should not have been the subject of intelligence gathering. The documents were released Wednesday as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit, but the DHS report itself was not released nor were any examples of what the analysts considered extreme rhetoric.
L.A. Broughton, an oversight official at Homeland Security, wrote in a 2008 follow-up memo that the document "discussed the possible succession of leadership of (the Nation of Islam) and the direction the group may take depending on who becomes the new leader, their personal philosophy and their ability to keep the organization from further splintering."
Messages left Wednesday for top officials in the Chicago-based movement were not immediately returned.
The Obama administration has pledged to be more open than its predecessor, and in the past year has released numerous previously classified details of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs, including how CIA interrogators used harsh techniques on detainees.
The latest release of government documents were the result of separate Freedom of Information lawsuits from two civil liberties groups — the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.
David Sobel, the EFF's senior counsel, said, "There remains a lot of material that continues to be withheld. To the extent that today's disclosures indicate a new approach to the Freedom of Information Act, we welcome it."