Spying on Peace Groups

The 2010 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General into FBI spying on such advocacy groups as Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center found that the Bureau initiated investigations on grounds that were “factually weak” and provided false information and “inaccurate and misleading” statements about links to terrorism to FBI head Robert Mueller, which he in turn conveyed to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In response to FOIA requests submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the FBI released documents which are the basis of an EFF report, “Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008.”

The June 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holder v. the Humanitarian Law Project gave the FBI new grounds to go after certain anti-war and international solidarity activists.

The case was a test of the “material support to terrorism” provision of the 1996 Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was later enhanced by the USA PATRIOT Act.  In its 6-3 ruling, the Court carved out a broad new exception to the First Amendment, permitting the prosecution on material support grounds of anyone who had “coordinated” in any way with a group listed by the Secretary of State as a terrorist organization.  A 15-year sentence and $50,000 fine could await someone who solicited an op ed from the leader of such a group, or who engaged with group members in conflict resolution and non violence training.

In the wake of that ruling, the FBI in late September 2010 conducted raids on homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Durham, North Carolina. They targeted anti-war activists and people who had been working to change US policy in the Middle East and Colombia. Using warrants indicating that they were seeking evidence of “material support for terrorism,” they took away computers, cell phones, t-shirts with slogans, photos, files and any documents containing the word “Palestine.” (See a regularly updated timeline of events surrounding the Midwest activists here.)

The raids appear to have been linked to the activities of an alleged secret government informant with a Boston accent who went by the name of “Karen Sullivan.”

Eventually, subpoenas to appear before a Grand Jury convened by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were issued to 23 activists. They refused to testify and could face considerable time in jail.  

According to former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley, “We’re conflating proper dissent and terrorism.”  

As she wrote in the Star Tribune (January 15, 2011),

A secretive, unaccountable, post 9/11 homeland security apparatus has increasingly turned inward on American citizens.  The evidence includes everything from controversial airport body scanners to the FBI’s raids last September on antiwar activists’ homes…Agents are now given a green light, for instance, to check off ‘statistical achievements’ by sending well-paid manipulative informants into mosques and peace groups.  Forgotten are worries about targeting and entrapping people not predisposed to violence.  Forgotten also are the scandals that came to light just months before 9/11 of decades-long FBI operations involving ‘top echelon informants’ (high-level violent criminals) such as Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger…Most important, what’s been forgotten is that the protection of civil liberties does not weaken our overall security but actually helps to strengthen it.
 

She goes on to blast the PATRIOT Act’s “material support” provision which – thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project – criminalizes nonviolent conflict resolution and the mere advocacy of peace, and the Department of Defense’s definition of ‘protest’ as ‘low-level terrorism activity.’ 

She concludes:

The massive and largely irrelevant data collection now occurring only adds hay to the haystack, making it even harder to see patterns and anticipate events.  ‘Top Secret America’ needs to ask itself who is more guilty of furnishing ‘material aid to terrorism’ – its own operatives, or the activists and protesters it so wrongheadedly targets.

Amy Goodman's DemocracyNow! did an extensive interview with Coleen Rowley and some of the activists targeted by the FBI. Part one is below.

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Part two:

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DN! did a follow up segment on the raids:

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Mass Focus: the FBI in Boston

The reputation of the FBI in Boston has never fully recovered from its involvement with two deadly gangsters, Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi (pictured at right) and James “Whitey” Bulger, both of whom were FBI informants in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

As the FBI helped Bulger become the leading crime boss in Boston, his brother was the powerful head of the state Senate. “Whitey” Bulger is still at large and features on the FBI’s Most Wanted list

The Bureau looked the other way when its favored mob committed more than 20 murders. It also deliberately withheld evidence that would have exonerated four other men who were framed for a gangland slaying. Two of them served 30 years and more and two died in prison. In 2007, a federal judge awarded the two survivors of the frame up and the families of all four men more than $100 million.

The story of the FBI and the mob is told by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill in Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob

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