FBI Scores Itself Another Lawsuit For Using The No Fly List To Punish A Lebanese Man For Not Becoming An Informant

from the FBI's-carrot-still-mainly-just-laying-off-the-stick-for-a-bit dept

For years, the FBI has threatened brown people with a miserable existence unless they're willing to become informants. What should be illegal somehow isn't -- or at least hasn't generated enough courtroom precedent to force the FBI to knock it off.

The FBI routinely approaches Muslims and people traveling to and from countries the US government considers questionable and tries to intimidate them into ratting out their friends, family members, and colleagues. Whether or not there's actually any ratting out to do seems to be, at best, a secondary concern. The FBI has spent years using informants to radicalize people, which it then arrests the moment they become radicalized enough. The FBI's counterterrorism budget depends on a healthy stable of informants and so the pressure tactics continue unabated.

The stick deployed most often is placement on the "No Fly" list, which makes it impossible to travel around the country, much less overseas to visit family and friends. The other stick is abuse of the immigration process. Visas can be revoked, family members removed, and other unpleasantness inflicted should someone reject these very forward advances from FBI agents.

We're still waiting for the judicial hammer to come down. It looks like it may finally be on its way. A lawsuit filed in 2014 over these tactics was recently given the green light to proceed by the Supreme Court.

Another lawsuit has been filed against the FBI for its months of pressure tactics deployed against Ahmad Chebli, a Lebanese man who was first approached by the FBI in 2018, which utilized a local government agency to trick Chebli into having a "conversation" with them. From the lawsuit [PDF]:

The FBI’s initial contact with Mr. Chebli was deceptive. On August 21, 2018, Mr. Chebli received a call from an individual who identified himself as an employee of the Roseville, Michigan Building Department. The caller informed Mr. Chebli that a Roseville gas station that Mr. Chebli leased and helped to manage was in violation of city permit requirements and requested that Mr. Chebli come in to discuss the matter in person. Mr. Chebli was concerned about any such violation and wanted to clear it up.

On August 23, Mr. Chebli arrived at Roseville City Hall. He was led to a conference room where two men were waiting for him. They told Mr. Chebli that they wanted to talk to him and that he was free to leave whenever he wanted. The men then identified themselves as FBI agents. Mr. Chebli did not feel that he could voluntarily leave. The door to the conference room was closed during the entirety of the one and a half hour meeting. Mr. Chebli never heard from city officials about any city permit “violation,” and it never came up again after this meeting.

The agents asked Chebli to show them he was not recording the meeting. Once the agents were assured only their official version of this time-shares-but-for-terrorism pitch session would be the only version on record, they proceeded to threaten Chebli and accuse him of being a terrorist.

Chebli told the FBI agents he wasn't interested. He had a steady job, a good life with his family, and moral objections to befriending FBI targets just so they could get set up and arrested. That angered the agents, who baselessly accused him of being a "Hezbollah agent." They also told him lying to federal agents is a felony (which it is) and claimed they could make all of this trouble (they had instigated) "go away" if he would just work for the FBI.

Chebli again refused. The agents then stated Chebli and his family would be subjected to surveillance, an investigation would be opened, and that there was a good chance it might end in the arrest of Chebli and his wife. They also said refusing to work with the FBI would cause problems for his wife's immigration application. They also said they would issue a "blue notice" -- something that would be disseminated to other government agencies identifying Chebli as a suspected terrorist.

Since Chebli didn't want any of this to happen, he continued to meet with the FBI agents. But he continued to refuse to become an informant. Since he no longer felt his family was safe in the US, he sent them back to Lebanon. After they left the airport, the FBI called Chebli to let him know his wife had gone through security without any problems, which made it clear agents were engaging in the surveillance they had threatened.

After several more fruitless meetings, Chebli decided things might be better for him if he left the United States for a month. When he tried to return after failing to find a stable source of income in Lebanon, he finally understood why the agents were so willing to help him leave.

On November 24, 2018, Mr. Chebli attempted to fly back to the United States. When he arrived at the Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport, he handed his passport to the check-in agent, and noticed an alert come up on the agent’s screen. The agent called a supervisor, who informed Mr. Chebli that she had received an email from the United States government indicating that he could not board the plane, and he needed to consult the U.S. Embassy. When Mr. Chebli sought more information about why he was being denied boarding, the supervisor repeated that he should contact the embassy.

After getting no useful answers from the FBI and the US Embassy, Chebli decided to contact the DHS. That's when he discovered what the FBI had done in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate.

On December 20, 2018, Mr. Chebli received confirmation from DHS TRIP that he was on the No Fly List. The DHS TRIP letter stated that Mr. Chebli could “request additional information about your placement on the No Fly List and have the opportunity to respond to any information provided if you believe that the above determination is in error.” The letter further stated that if Mr. Chebli wished to request additional information, he was required to contact DHS TRIP within 30 days.

Thanks to other lawsuits, the DHS now actually has some form of recourse for travelers on this list. But, like so many other things the government is forced to do by court decisions, the DHS wasn't all that interested in holding up its end of the agreement. It never provided Chebli with an answer about his No Fly status. The ACLU (which is representing Chebli) secured a waiver so he could fly back to the United State.

Almost two years later, Chebli tried to board a domestic flight. He was again informed he was on the No Fly list. He was subjected to multiple, lengthy searches and screenings. When he arrived back in Michigan, he was once again accosted by FBI agents.

Now fully aware of his rights and determined not to be coerced, Mr. Chebli answered the FBI agents’ questions about his travel but refused to respond to any other questions. The agents then asked Mr. Chebli who was taking care of his children. Mr. Chebli questioned why they were asking about his children. One of the FBI agents named a man Mr. Chebli did not know, and said, “You need to cooperate with us. He has two daughters similar in age to your kids, and they’re safe right now because he chose to cooperate with us.” The agents also asserted that they would denaturalize Mr. Chebli’s wife. Mr. Chebli knew they could not take this action because his wife was not yet a U.S. citizen, but he also knew that a decision on her naturalization application had been inexplicably delayed for months. Concerned about the FBI’s threats, Mr. Chebli asked if he was free to leave, and when he did not get a straight answer, he called his ACLU lawyer, who asked to speak with the FBI agents. At that point, the FBI agents told Mr. Chebli he could leave.

Chebli again tried to get some answers from the DHS about his No Fly status. He submitted his request in February 2021. As of the date of this filing (April 6), he still has yet to receive a response.

There's a long list of rights violations here. And none of this is going to change until the courts tell the DOJ the FBI cannot threaten and intimidate people to encourage them to become informants. Since these "meetings" are informal and unrecorded, the FBI can always argue it isn't doing this, even though there are dozens -- if not hundreds -- of people who've been subjected to the same coercive tactics described in this lawsuit. Applying pressure to create informants so the FBI can continue to rack up easy counterterrorism wins isn't making the country any safer. But it's definitely making the country worse.

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Filed Under: ahmad chebli, fbi, informant, intimidation, no fly list, own plot, retaliation


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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 1:53pm

    And you wonder?

    "The FBI has spent years using informants to radicalize people,"

    Why the USA is scared of everyone else?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 12 Apr 2021 @ 1:56pm

      Re: And you wonder?

      We have more guns than people and the GQP is crazy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 11:12pm

        Re: Re: And you wonder?

        "the GQP is crazy"

        The fact that they're crazy isn't too concerning. The fact that 73 million people voted for them after their failed con artist cult leader killed 500k and promised to do more on the other hand...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Apr 2021 @ 1:20am

          Re: Re: Re: And you wonder?

          "The fact that 73 million people voted for them after their failed con artist cult leader killed 500k and promised to do more on the other hand..."

          ^This.

          The nazi party were only 12% of the citizenry when Hitler took power. We can all be very happy that at least Trump was a narcissistic wannabe, not a Hitler. His most loyal adherents are a confused gaggle of people so incompetent or deeply invested in denial of factual reality they really aren't a threat to anyone save in a mob or as random suicidal shooters.

          But the 1 in 3 of american voters turning out to be fundamentally horrible people? for whom a pathological liar invested in white supremacy with 450k dead americans directly at his feet was still the candidate of choice? Those are frightening. They're not all morons. Not all Seventh Day Adventists yearning for the time when the "great disappointment" gets fixed by the world finally ending. Not all cultists beholden to the Screaming Orange.

          Most of them are adjusted enough to live in society - just willing to sacrifice anyone as long as their favorite pastor tells them to or the party demands it. The sort of people who make very good neighbors and excellent camp guards at Auschwitz.

          And they aren't going away. They'll cheerfully benefit from socialist subsidies on power, housing, education and infrastructure while steadfastly supporting the party wanting to take that all away. Because no one is paying them to think.

          They aren't racists, as they'll happily tell you. Some of "their best friends" are "black" (pronounced in a way rhyming with "bigger"), rag-heads, chinks, gooks and kikes...but they "know better" than to trust "those people" from Syria - or Sudan - who just moved in next door. Or the black family with six generations in the states because, well, they'll find a reason not to trust them...

          They aren't religious fanatics...they just take for granted that, well, everyone in their prayer circle echo chamber keeps telling them we're living in the end times so maybe it's just time to do something about the pagans and the godless heathens. You know, just to score some piety points before the rapture comes.

          And they don't "reject science". They just favor a more balanced view where belief, feelings and hearsay have equal weight when it comes to determining what reality looks like.

          If the Trump cultist is a sociological equivalent of hemorrhagic fever then these more "normal" Trump supporters are Alzheimers or Lupus. Equally fatal in the long term but with the added "bonus" of leaving society as a whole severely afflicted and crippled before the end comes to a life grown progressively more horrifying.

          73 fucking million of them. One out of three americans. And now they've had their little beer hall coup at the capitol where Trump at least was too much of a cowardly can't-do shitstain to lead from the front. Right now new leaders will be bubbling up from the opportunists in the new GOP ready to run the rest of that tired old recipe.
          My money's on the next capitol show being a reenactment of the "reichstagsbrand" sometime around 2024 or shortly thereafter.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 13 Apr 2021 @ 1:02am

        Re: Re: And you wonder?

        Thats fine, but NO AMMO. go look.
        And shooting more then 1 gun per person Is not a learned skill, its rather stupid. And carrying more then 1 type of ammo, is another Stupid think.
        And the Big think comes with finding a reason Other countries DONT like the USA(I do know a few, how about you?)
        And if you were saying the GOP, there are ways to slow THEM down. As reality is kinda shocking, when you demand Conservative logic.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      me, 13 Apr 2021 @ 4:39am

      They radicalize them so they can arrest them.

      I am not a muslim, but I am a sufi, a white privledge having blonde haired blued eye white boy, born and raised in the USA. Should this concern me that I could be subjected to this bullshit? Love the country, fear the Government

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Apr 2021 @ 7:12am

        Re: They radicalize them so they can arrest them.

        "I am not a muslim, but I am a sufi..."

        That's kinda like saying that you are a New Yorker but not an American. Sufism, last I checked, is Islamic mysticism with roots going straight back to Mohammed. It's so intrinsic it came before the division of Sunni and Shia.

        "Should this concern me that I could be subjected to this bullshit?"

        Probably not. I mean, consider that a white man can walk around with an assault rifle without fear in the US but in many places there a twelve year old black kid playing with a toy gun is likely to go down in a hail of bullets.

        Also consider that were you to dress up exactly like a yemenite or afghan imam with beard, headpiece, and toting a copy of the Quran anyone seeing you from a distance will just see a a redneck dressed for a prayer meeting. Try the same if you've got brown skin...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Apr 2021 @ 2:00pm

    Since these "meetings" are informal and unrecorded,

    The nothing to hide, nothing to fear people must have something to hide and fear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Upstream (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 3:50pm

      Re:

      Yes, AFAIK the FBI has a long-standing policy of not recording "meetings" or "interviews." That way it is their word against the word of whoever they were talking with. The people they typically talk with are unsympathetic characters, or people that can be portrayed as unsympathetic characters, the implication being that whatever those people say cannot be trusted, versus the "unassailable truth" that comes from the untouchables.

      Far too many jellyfish judges are accomplices in this subversion of justice in that they continue to treat the word of almost any LEO as gospel in spite of an increasingly large mountain of evidence that LEOs are generally serial liars.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Apr 2021 @ 2:18pm

    A brief reenactment:

    The courts even if he does prove his case: Shakes finger at FBI "Now don't do this again or we will be VERY cross with you!"

    FBI: "We are so sorry, we promise this will never happen again" fingers crossed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 2:50pm

      Re:

      Nah, the line is 'Don't get caught doing this again or I will be very cross', it's all good so long as they manage to keep things off the radar so judges don't have to show how gutless they are the second someone with a badge enters the room.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Apr 2021 @ 3:01pm

    'We're totally different from other crooks, we've got badges!'

    There is no such thing as a 'casual' chat with someone who can arrest and or bring charges against you, whether cop or FBI agent, and the fact that they were careful to only start talking after confirming that the victim wasn't recording what was going to be said makes really clear that they did not want an honest record of their words and actions.

    If judges were able to keep their spines when someone with a badge entered the court this would be an open and shut case of extortion and abuse of authority for revenge, what with the multiple threats against the man, his wife and children and putting him on the No Fly list when he refused to play along. Sadly the number of judges willing to stand up to those in authority are in short supply, all the more so when the victims are anything but lily white, so while I wish him well I expect that he's about to find out the hard way just how much the system simply does not care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      christenson, 12 Apr 2021 @ 10:04pm

      Re: 'We're totally different from other crooks, we've got badges

      We need the defense bar to start having a united front on this: What do you mean there was no recording? What were you hiding???

      So where's my adverse inference?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Apr 2021 @ 5:56pm

    FBI = Federal Bureau of Incineration
    BATF = Burn All The Familites

    Old joke from Waco TX, but one has to wonder who the real terrorists are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter, 13 Apr 2021 @ 10:54am

    Sound reasoning.

    "If you are not for us, you must be against us"....FBI probably

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fearless Fosdick, 13 Apr 2021 @ 1:48pm

    Lawn Odor

    The legislators have repeatedly passed laws legalizing what otherwise be illegal. Most are not intelligent enough to understand the ramifications thereof. The kops have morphed their raison d’etra from “Protect & Serve” to “Get On The Ground.” Five to ten years to litigate issues which could be more efficiently and fairly adjudicated in twenty minutes. So? What do you expect? Badges of authority from a box of Cracker Jacks is what has become.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 14 Apr 2021 @ 3:39pm

    The FBI extorts innocents to become informants

    When James Comey talked of honoring the mission (which under his watch went from law enforcement to national security) how did he reconcile acting like a family of racketeering mobsters?

    I guess the Bureau hasn't improved since the Hoover years. And it's still antagonistic to the people of the United States.

    Disband the justice system. The whole thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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