In December 2011, the ACLU released FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which showed that San Francisco FBI agents were exploiting community outreach programs for intelligence-gathering purposes. Now it appears FBI agents in Minneapolis have adopted this ruse, and may be using it in even more sinister ways.
As the nation’s predominant federal law enforcement agency, the FBI has a duty to communicate with the public—both to provide information about FBI activities and to hear grievances—so it can address specific community concerns. The FBI’s community outreach program, organized under its Office of Public Affairs, was established to fulfill this obligation, and much of its work is laudable. But the FBI documents we received show that at least since 2005, in an increasingly formal and systematic process that lasted well into 2011, the FBI used community outreach programs to collect information about First Amendment-protected activity for intelligence and investigative purposes.