US Attorney’s “Convenience Store Initiative” Probed Middle Easterners For Terror Ties

September 29, 2009 11:35 a.m.

In the period after 9/11, law-enforcement agencies around the country suddenly made rooting out anyone with possible ties to terrorism a top priority. But did one Bush appointee take that zeal too far by targeting people based on little more than an Arabic-sounding name?

The Convenience Store Initiative was the farcical-sounding name of a program launched by the office of Jim Greenlee, the US attorney for Mississippi’s northern district, according to documents obtained by the state’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper.The idea was to look into whether residents of the area were supporting terrorism, for instance by sending money overseas that was financing terrorist groups. But the paper reports that of the more than 100 people listed in the documents as being investigated, “nearly every name appears to be Islamic.” It’s illegal, of course, to target people because of their national origin.

Greenlee denies that was done, telling the paper: “Did we look at it from an improper purpose? No.” And people who tan the initiative say the FBI found nothing wrong with it, and that the Bush Justice Department praised the concept.

Still, no terror-related arrests were ever made. Instead, according to the Clarion-Ledger:

[S]tate and federal officials since 2006 have charged more than 60 people in Mississippi with such illegal acts as the sale of excessive amounts of pseudoephedrine – used to make meth.

As Greenlee put it to the paper, the government was “looking to see any links to terrorism, but what we found was criminal conduct.” Put another way, it appears that, after being unable to find evidence of terror ties, Greenlee’s office instead went after convenience store owners from Islamic countries for selling pseudoephedrine in bulk — even though some may not even have known it was a crime to do so.

Greenlee, a career Naval officer and former assistant US attorney, was appointed to his post in 2001 by President Bush, with the support of the state’s two GOP senators at the time, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran. Along with many other Bush appointees, he has not yet been replaced by President Obama.

We’re digging for more information on Greenlee’s Convenience Store Initiative, so stay tuned…

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