The Magazine May 2013 | Page 9

But the new guidelines also featured added restrictions on an especially sensitive area of FBI counterterrorism work: mosques. Under the new rules, agents could no longer enter a religious organization without special new approval—in some cases directly from FBI headquarters. Moreover, according to still-classified sections of the new rules made available to Time, any plan to go undercover in a place of worship—a tactic employed by the bureau after Sept. 11, 2001, that drew protests from Muslim Americans and at least one lawsuit from a California mosque—would now need special approval from a newly established oversight body at Department of Justice headquarters called the Sensitive Operations Review Committee, or SORC.

On January 18, 15 months after those guidelines were issued and just a few days before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a young immigrant from the Russian region of Dagestan, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, stood up in his mosque in Cambridge, Mass., and confronted his imam when the religious leader extolled King’s greatness. Tamerlan yelled that the preacher was a “non­believer” and was “contaminating” his followers’ minds. The congregation shouted Tamerlan down and hounded him out the door. The FBI didn’t learn about the episode, or the fact that Tamerlan had been posting radical Islamic videos on his YouTube page, until after three people were dead on Boylston Street.

There’s no telling whether closer monitoring of Tamerlan’s mosque might have stopped him. But the Tsarnaev case raises, once again, hard questions about how we want to apply the Bill of Rights and the post–Civil War guarantees of equal protection in our time. Where is the limit to what Washington should do in the name of our security? Do Americans want under­cover agents spying on their prayers? What aspect of privacy might we give up in the interest of better security? Perhaps the FBI agents who were alerted to Tamerlan’s radical turn by Russian intelligence in 2011 should have monitored his Internet activity long enough to spot his terrorist sympathies. Should Americans let the government sniff through their communications? According to a new Time/CNN/ORC International poll, nearly twice as many Americans are concerned about a loss of civil liberties as are worried about a weakening of anti-­terror policies.

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