Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Justice Department: FBI Investigations of Left Leaning Groups "Improper"

I want everyone to go back in time for a bit and remember the dark days of the Bush Administration. In this case, it was the Administration's use of the Patriot Act to vastly expand the reach of the FBI, particularly in its monitoring of left leaning political advocacy groups inside the United States...all to protect us from terrorism of course (sarcasm).

One of the most damning charges the Justice Department was attempting to determine the validity of was whether the FBI targeted these groups because of their specific political "beliefs" and/or for political purposes?

As the Washington Post reports, the Justice Department concluded that on one hand, the "FBI improperly investigated some left-leaning U.S. advocacy groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks...citing cases in which agents put activists on terrorist watch lists even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience."

But, on the other hand, the investigation stops short of asserting the FBI targeted specific groups due to their politics, which I find a bit contradictory, writing, "A report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine absolved the FBI of the most serious allegation: that domestic groups were targeted purely for their activism against the Iraq war and other political activity, which would have violated their First Amendment rights. Civil liberties groups and congressional Democrats had accused the FBI of employing such tactics during George W. Bush's administration.

Now, before I get to a bit more of the article and the report, I want to go back a bit to describe some of what we know about the FBI's use of the Patriot Act under the Bush Administration to target liberal groups, particularly anti-war ones during the years between 2001 and 2006 in particular.

First, according to a recent report by the ACLU, there have been 111 incidents of illegal domestic political surveillance since 9/11 in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

The report shows that law enforcement and federal officials work closely to monitor the political activity of individuals deemed suspicious, an activity that was previously common during the Cold War. That includes protests, religious activities and other rights protected by the first amendment.

The spying could take the form of listening to phone calls, intercepting wireless communications, harassing photographers or infiltrating protest groups. Also discovered was the way in which agencies' are increasingly connected through various information sharing measures, making it more likely that information collected on an individual by a small police department could end up in an FBI or CIA database.

The report also noted how the FBI monitors peaceful protest groups and in some cases attempts to prevent protest activities. Its not hard to make the obvious connection between the increase in domestic political surveillance to an erosion of the standards of privacy and civil liberties in the wake of 9/11. The Patriot Act of course serves as exhibit A, as it authorized law enforcement to use tools domestically that were formerly restricted to hostile groups in foreign nations.

This all sounds VERY POLITICAL to me...otherwise where are all the examples of right wing groups being monitored? This discrepancy is particularly questionable when considering its right wing types that tend to be those advocating violence, even government overthrow, rather than peace.

And let's be clear, just because its now 2010 and we have a Democratic President, that doesn't mean this expanding surveillance state has in any way been restrained. The Patriot Act's key provisions allowing this kind of government surveillance in the first place were all renewed.

And worse, in recent months it was none other than the Department Of Justice itself that has been pressuring Congress to expand its power to obtain records of Americans' private Internet activity through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).

All of this of course is part of a much larger trend that paints a disturbing narrative, a narrative that points in one direction only: an increasingly intrusive surveillance state with an Executive Branch getting dangerously close to being above the law.

It is just a technical matter, the Obama administration says: We just need to make a slight change in a law to make clear that we have the right to see the names of anyone’s e-mail correspondents and their Web browsing history without the messy complication of asking a judge for permission. To get this information, the F.B.I. simply has to ask for it in the form of a national security letter, which is an administrative request that does not require a judge’s signature.

These national security letters are the same vehicles that the Bush administration used after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to demand that libraries turn over the names of books that people had checked out. The F.B.I. used these letters hundreds of thousands of times to demand records of phone calls and other communications, and the Pentagon used them to get records from banks and consumer credit agencies. Internal investigations of both agencies found widespread misuse of the power, and little oversight into how it was wielded.

In other words, this is simply about removing one last protection we have from FBI surveillance abuses, namely, federal judges and courts and the scrutiny they could supply to requests for sensitive information made by the government. We know, for a fact, that under the Bush Administration the VAST MAJORITY of Patriot Act abuses had nothing to do with terrorism, or trying to actually catch terrorists or stop terrorist acts.

No, what makes this kind of expansion of surveillance capabilities so dangerous is that they are more often than not used to target political enemies (think peace protesters, anti-globalization protesters) or just small time drug dealers. Let's hope the President does not get rewarded the same way his predecessor did every time he starts crying about the big bad terrorist wolf.

The concern of course is that once these expanded surveillance powers (and others) are accepted, even codified, by the "left" no less, they are untouchable...and what were once considered inalienable rights, are now gone, for good.

As Glenn Greenwald noted last year,The problem is never that the U.S. Government lacks sufficient power to engage in surveillance, interceptions, intelligence-gathering and the like. Long before 9/11 -- from the Cold War -- we have vested extraordinarily broad surveillance powers in the U.S. Government to the point that we have turned ourselves into a National Security and Surveillance State. Terrorist attacks do not happen because there are too many restrictions on the government's ability to eavesdrop and intercept communications, or because there are too many safeguards and checks. If anything, the opposite is true: the excesses of the Surveillance State -- and the steady abolition of oversights and limits -- have made detection of plots far less likely. Despite that, we have an insatiable appetite -- especially when we're frightened anew -- to vest more and more unrestricted spying and other powers in our Government, which -- like all governments -- is more than happy to accept it.”

So please keep all of the above in mind when reading this Washington Post article and the findings by the Justice Department...and ask yourself, were these surveillance jobs politically motivated? I can't see how you can conclude they weren't...

More from the article:

...the report cited what it called "troubling" FBI practices in the Bush administration's monitoring of domestic groups between 2001 and 2006. In one instance, the report said, FBI officials falsely said an agent photographed antiwar demonstrators as part of a terrorism investigation, which led FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to unintentionally give incorrect information about the incident to Congress.

In another, agents investigated members of the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace over their protest activities "with little or no basis," the report said. Agents kept the case open for more than three years, even though no charges were filed, and put the activists on a terrorist watch list, it said.

The groups that were monitored, which also include a Catholic organization that advocates for peace, compared the FBI's actions to questionable domestic spying tactics the bureau usedagainst antiwar demonstrators and others in the 1960s under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover.

"The use of McCarthyite tactics against PETA and other groups that speak out against cruelty to animals and exploitative corporate and government practices is un-American, unconstitutional, and against the interests of a healthy democracy,'' said a statement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group that was among those monitored.


Civil liberties groups have long accused the bureau of overreacting to the hijackings by improperly monitoring antiwar demonstrators and environmental groups. Fine's investigation began in 2006 after the American Civil Liberties Union released documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that it said showed that the FBI was monitoring left-leaning groups.

Michael German, an ACLU senior policy counsel and former FBI agent, said Fine's report "clearly shows that the FBI was improperly spying on people's First Amendment-protected activity, and that the FBI didn't have enough internal controls to prevent abuse.''

Fine's report says that in some cases, agents began investigations of people affiliated with activist groups for "factually weak" reasons. In others, the report said, the FBI extended probes "without adequate basis" and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files.

Much of the report is about a 2002 antiwar protest sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based organization dedicated to promoting peace.

Mark Berry, a probationary FBI agent with little anti-terrorism experience, attended the rally and photographed demonstrators distributing leaflets. An internal FBI document said the bureau was investigating "Pittsburgh anti-war activity,'' the report said.

Read more here.

No comments: