When I got the assignment to cover Arab-American reaction to the Bush administration wiretapping revelations, I knew who to call.
Osama Siblani is the publisher of the Arab American News, a newspaper based in Dearborn, Michigan, with an online edition that's read around the world. For more than a decade, whenever I've contacted him, he's always given me an accurate picture of what's going on in metro Detroit's Arab community, one of the largest outside the Middle East.
Right off the bat, Siblani told me many Arab-Americans fear their government is listening to their phone conversations. In fact, he says he's quite sure his newspaper's phones are bugged. I asked him if he had any evidence. He said no. But since he regularly makes calls to contacts in Arab countries overseas, he reasoned that his newspaper would be a likely target for eavesdropping.
A few things I should point out. The National Security Agency does not comment on where or on whom they do surveillance, but General Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and now the nation's deputy director of intelligence, recently said neither Arab-Americans nor any other ethnic group are a target of the wiretapping program. Hayden said the program targets "only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates."
Some Arab-Americans we spoke with had no problem with wiretapping without warrants. As one man born in Iraq told me, you have "to do what you have to do to protect the country."
Still, Osama Siblani assured me, a large share of the Arab-American community feels they are being monitored. And, he says, it is sparking anger. Many Arab-Americans now believe their loyalty to the United States is being questioned.
For our story, we talked to a number of folks from Detroit's diverse Arab community to see if that was valid. And sure enough, it wasn't tough to find Arabs and Arab-Americans who did not have any evidence, but did have a lot of suspicions that they were being wiretapped. And they weren't happy about it.