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FBI: Iraqi interviews provided helpful info for war

Program criticized as ethnic profiling

Ashcroft, left, and Mueller
Ashcroft, left, and Mueller

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI interviews with nearly 10,000 Iraqi citizens and former citizens living in the United States helped lead the U.S. military to key sites during the war in Iraq, the FBI said Thursday.

The voluntary interviews with carefully selected individuals resulted in approximately 250 reports that helped U.S. troops locate "weapons production and storage facilities, underground bunkers, fiber optic networks, and Iraqi detention and interrogation facilities," said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

"The information was relevant and greatly helpful in bridging gaps in other intelligence," he said.

"The cooperation of the Iraqi-American people was essential in our efforts to secure and safeguard our nation at this critical time," he said.

The Iraqi Task Force project, under which intelligence officials requested interviews with people who might have pertinent information, garnered sharp criticism from some civil libertarians, who complained it represented ethnic profiling.

But Mueller said that among the people contacted for interviews he knew of only two complaints. Many of those interviewed were dissidents who had fled Saddam's regime, he said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft added, "I don't know whether anyone turned us down. But it's very clearly the overwhelming majority of individuals interviewed were very helpful to us."

Without giving details of the interviews, Mueller said they "all were conducted within the strict confines of the Constitution, with full respect for the rights and dignity of those who were contacted."

He also said officials used the interviews to encourage people to report any hate crime incidents they or their communities had experienced.

The interviews "served to build communication and understanding between the FBI and Iraqi, Muslim, and Arab-American communities, he said. "I would like to personally thank those who participated and Arab-American civic leaders who have helped make America safer."

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