Written by Coleen Rowley for Huffington Post
Former FBI Special Agent
The war on dissent, rather than terrorism, continued full steam with FBI SWAT teams breaking down doors at 7 am Friday (Sept 24) morning and raiding the homes of several anti-war leaders and activists in Minneapolis, Chicago and possibly a couple other Midwest cities. Members of the FBI’s “Joint Terrorism Task Force” spent a few hours at each Minneapolis residence, seizing personal photographs and papers, computers and cell phones as well as serving Federal Grand Jury subpoenas on the various activists.
Obviously the scathing review of post 9-11 FBI “terrorism investigations” targeting various peace and social justice groups completed by the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) and just issued four days ago gave no pause to the FBI to reflect before continuing to do more of the same. Nor did accompanying media revelations about the FBI having improperly conducted surveillances of an antiwar rally in Pittsburgh; the Catholic Worker peace magazine; a Quaker activist, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, of members of the environmental group Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and of a small student group of anti-war activists in Iowa City, Iowa who were targeted for 9 months in 2008.
National news stories revealed that in one of the investigations, FBI Director Robert Mueller inadvertently providing a fabricated justification for the surveillance of an antiwar rally. From The Boston Globe’s article “Red-Baiting, Circa 2002 – 2006“:
The Justice Department’s Inspector General report released this week pulled few punches in admonishing the FBI for targeting anti-war groups and advocacy organizations with no apparent justification, and for placing non-violent activists in those groups on terrorist watch lists. The report chastised the bureau for having a “weak” rationale for some of its investigations; investigating where there was “little indication of any possible federal crimes”; and extending “the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis.” The agency was also taken to task for improperly retaining information about the targeted groups in its files and for classifying investigations of peace groups “under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification.”
These are serious abuses. Using anti-terrorism laws to target domestic protest organizations is redolent of the actions of the Justice Department against law-abiding protesters during World War I and the Vietnam War — actions that are rightly remembered as disgraceful.
FBI Director Robert Mueller was misled by subordinates into telling Congress, falsely, that surveillance of a peaceful 2002 anti-war rally was “an outgrowth of an FBI investigation.” In fact, it was the product of an agent receiving a “make-work” assignment on a “slow day.”
But perhaps what is more important here than a “let’s make work on a slow day” is the perverse career incentives that serve to pressure FBI counter-terrorism agents to produce “stats” (statistics). An agent gains “stats” for serving subpoenas, national security letters for records, executing search warrants, contacting confidential sources, etc., whether or not any relevant evidence is obtained via this “work” and whether or not it leads to prosecution or preventing a crime. It is a well known fact that nearly 1,000 people were rounded up and detained (mostly in New York City) immediately after 9-11. None of those detained were ever identified as “terrorists” but that’s when these career enhancing “stats” began to be awarded for each detention, arrest, subpoena, search warrant, etc.
The IG, however, has only reviewed FBI “terrorism” investigations thus far from 2002 to 2006. What happened in Iowa City in 2008 shows the FBI did not cease its improper investigations after 2006. Documents obtained through FOIA showed the FBI and its local law enforcement partners targeted students and anti-war activists in Iowa City, following them to parks, food co-ops, libraries, bars and restaurants, etc., over a 9 month period with little factual justification other than the allegation that the group was plotting to protest the Republican National Convention. The FBI even managed to secretly search the anti-war members’ personal trash.
It would therefore seem that someone should quickly contact the IG and ask for review of those cases since 2006. Additionally “whistleblower complaints” can be made concerning fraud, waste, abuse and illegality by citizens to the Office of Special Counsel.
Friday’s raids in Minneapolis occurred after the prior Attorney General Guidelines were erased that used to require a level of factual justification before domestic groups could be spied on. Additionally, the Patriot Act and an earlier 1996 law broadly prohibiting “material support to terrorism” were allowed to stand even though these laws make speech advocating human rights a terrorist crime. The final problem is the law enforcement mindset first seen back in 2003 from a spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) who was forced to defend his agency’s unjustified targeting of anti-war protesters without any factual evidence. CATIC Spokesman Van Winkle, apparently without thinking too hard, reasoned that evidence wasn’t needed to issue warnings on war protesters. “You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest),” said Van Winkle, “You can almost argue that a protest against (the “war on terror”) is a terrorist act.”