[R-G] The New COINTELPRO
sandinista at shaw.ca
Fri Oct 22 21:48:01 MDT 2004
Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
sent by eon3 (via activ-l) - Oct 22, 2004
[Thanks to Catherine Powell: This is very disturbing, especially the
attacks on the IndyMedia centers and the way the press is equating
protest with terrorism. The SF Bay Guardian has several other
articles on the subject in this week's issue at http://www.sfbg.com ]
The New COINTELPRO:
The feds are spying on - and harassing - political activists
with a fury not seen since the 1960s.
By Camille T. Taiara
EARLY THIS MONTH the federal government launched the latest crude
offensive in its so-called war on terror. Titled the October Plan,
the program called for "aggressive - even obvious - surveillance" of
a wide range of individuals (regardless of whether or not they're
suspected of any criminal wrongdoing) until the Nov. 2 presidential
election, according to an internal document leaked to the press.
The plan - a collaboration between the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other
agencies - involves renewed scrutiny of mosques and interrogations of
people whose national origin, religious faith, or political leanings
might, in the eyes of the feds, indicate even the most far-flung
relationship to "terrorism."
Immigrants and others interviewed by the FBI have been "questioned
about immigration status - theirs and others' - and about their
political and religious views," the National Lawyers Guild's Stacey
Tolchin said at an emergency press conference called by the San
Francisco branch of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,
the Bay Area Association of Muslim Lawyers, the NLG, and the American
Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
For staffers at these organizations, responding to these kinds of
crackdowns has become alarmingly routine. This is the fifth round of
FBI "informal interviews" targeting immigrants based on their
national origin, religion, and, increasingly, their political views.
No one knows just how many have been deported as a result of the
interviews or of the various dragnets conducted over the past three
years. Local NLG attorney Nancy Hormachae reported that at least
13,000 people were forced into deportation hearings as the result of
the notorious Special Registration program alone. And the fact that
none of these campaigns has proffered a single al-Qaeda operative
hasn't deterred the Bush administration a bit.
So far, immigrant Muslims and those from the Middle East and Central
Asia have suffered the brunt of the Bush administration's attacks on
civil liberties. But as NLG immigration attorney Mark Van Der Hout
told me, "Going after immigrants is just the first step towards going
after U.S. citizens."
Indeed, a look at the past three years shows that Attorney General
John Ashcroft's offensive has widened to include a range of citizens
whose only real crime is their opposition to the Bush
The FBI Comes Calling
President George W. Bush, Aschroft, and company have made it easier
to spy on everyday citizens without probable cause of criminal
activity, even allowing for the indefinite detention of Americans
dubbed "enemy combatants," without charges or access to a lawyer.
They've eviscerated laws meant to keep a wall between the CIA and the
FBI and erected an extensive domestic-spying infrastructure,
enlisting private citizens and relying on private industry to a
degree never seen before. Today federal agencies are maintaining a
grand total of 10 domestic watch lists.
The Bush administration has shifted federal funding away from
traditional law enforcement and toward domestic spying, explained
John Crew, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California
specializing in police practices and surveillance issues. "A lot of
this activity is, in fact, being carried out by local police working
with the Joint Terrorism Task Force," he told me, explaining that
those agents are considered "federalized." They report to the FBI.
Local city officials - even local police chiefs - are often not aware
of what these "special officers" are doing.
As the Bush administration loosened professional standards for law
enforcement, it simultaneously increased financial incentives for
conducting surveillance, Crew continued. "To qualify for grants,
[local law enforcement] must have organizations in their locale that
are threats," he said. "They have to justify their own budget by
amplifying the threat factor."
Here in San Francisco, the FBI was to assign 27 special agents - two
with supervisory powers - to the San Francisco Police Department,
according to a November 2002 agreement between the two agencies. The
SFPD was to assign one investigator from its Intelligence Unit to
coordinate supervision of the special agents alongside the FBI's two
supervisory special agents.
"We usually don't know what they're really up to until many years
later, if ever," Crew said.
Details of just how law enforcement is making use of its expanded
powers remain clouded in secrecy. But one thing is clear: it doesn't
take much to earn a surprise visit from federal agents these days.
Just ask San Francisco resident Denver Duffer. Duffer was questioned
by a state trooper and a cop in Blair, Neb., during a three-week road
trip last month. He had stopped to admire "a beautiful old railroad
bridge over the Missouri River," wrote former roommate and Daily
Journal staff writer Peter Blumberg in the Daily Journal, and had
taken a few photos on his point-and-shoot. The officers had received
several calls from concerned citizens reporting that a bearded Arab
had been photographing the bridge's foundations.
After grilling Duffer and rifling through his car and luggage, the
officers let him go. But three weeks later, two FBI special agents
appeared at Duffer's home.
The G-men let him off the hook after questioning him and Blumberg for
20 minutes and looking at the panoramic photos Duffer had shot during
his trip. But the visit raised a disturbing question: how did a false
tip, checked out and then dismissed by local cops in Nebraska, wind
up on the desk of FBI agents in San Francisco?
Just a week before Duffer's Nebraska run-in, 19-year-old Derek Kjar
of Salt Lake City had also found himself being grilled by two agents
- at least one from the Secret Service - after a neighbor called the
feds to report a bumper sticker on Kjar's car that read, "King George
- Off with his head."
"They said it was 'borderline terrorism,' " Kjar told Matthew
Rothschild, a reporter for the Progressive's online McCarthyism Watch.
Media reports have documented dozens of such incidents over the past
Viewed piecemeal, these episodes are troubling enough. But when
considered alongside other disturbing patterns, they point to a much
more insidious, Machiavellian offensive against everyday activists
who dare to organize in opposition to the Bush administration's
These patterns provide evidence that, despite official claims to the
contrary, law enforcement may be directing much of its domestic
antiterrorism efforts into COINTELPRO-style programs - keeping tabs
on activists and otherwise assaulting legitimate dissent.
"If you're going to start focusing on people not because they're
engaged in violent activity - if the focus of your approach is going
to be because of the political views that they hold - then inevitably
that's going to lead to the kind of political disruption that was
used in COINTELPRO," Center for Constitutional Rights legal director
Jeff Fogel told me. "To me, that's the logical result."
The Criminal Quakers
A rash of scandals involving sinister, new intelligence outfits
corroborate Fogel's suspicions.
In March 2002, the Denver ACLU filed a class action suit against the
local police department that eventually uncovered proof that Denver
cops had been monitoring and keeping files on more than 3,200
individuals and 208 organizations - the vast majority of whom posed
no threat - despite a city policy prohibiting intelligence gathering
not directly associated with criminal activities. Among what became
know in the local press as the "Denver spy files" were documents
labeling the American Friends Service Committee, an 85-year-old
pacifist Quaker group, as one of numerous "criminal extremists."
"We got, through discovery, documents indicating that the [FBI's]
Joint Terrorism Task Force was also collecting information about
people's peaceful activities - activities that solely involve
political views, not criminal activity," Mark Silverman, legal
director for the Denver ACLU, told me.
One year after the "Denver spy files" scandal and closer to home,
internal documents originally released in response to a public
records request by the Oakland Tribune revealed that the California
Anti-Terrorism Information Center - launched just two weeks after the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - had been monitoring protest activities
throughout the state and had "issued 30 special advisories that
mention political groups in the Bay Area alone," reporters Ian
Hoffman and Sean Holstege wrote in a July 15, 2003, article. Included
among the groups: the International Action Center, Direct Action to
Stop the War, Not in Our Name, Critical Mass, Black Bloc, the Ruckus
Society, the Bay Area Independent Media Center, and various
environmental, animal rights, peace, and nuclear disarmament
The exposi prompted state attorney general Bill Lockyer to issue a
series of guidelines banning California law-enforcement agencies from
monitoring political and religious groups without reasonable
suspicion of a crime.
New guidelines didn't come soon enough for members of Peace Fresno.
On Sept. 1, 2003, members of the antiwar group were surprised to find
an obituary in the Fresno Bee for Aaron Stokes, a man they'd thought
was part of their organization - but whom the paper identified as a
local sheriff's department officer. As it turned out, Stokes (who'd
died in a motorcycle accident) had belonged to the Fresno County
Sheriff Department's Anti-Terrorism Unit. He'd infiltrated Peace
Fresno and conducted undercover surveillance of the group and its
members for six months.
"What they do with that information ... who knows," Denver ACLU's
Meanwhile, the FBI continues to issue secret Intelligence Bulletins
similar to CATIC's on a weekly basis. The FBI requires
law-enforcement agencies nationwide to keep an eye on "possible
indicators of protest activity and report any potentially illegal
acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force," according to a
leaked FBI Intelligence Bulletin issued Oct. 15, 2003.
Paul Bame, a 45-year-old software engineer in Fort Collins, Colo.,
returned from his lunch break on July 23 to find a security guard
waiting at his desk. The guard escorted him to the building lobby,
where FBI agent Ted Faul was waiting for him.
As it turns out, Faul had looked for Bame at home the evening before
and spoken to one of his neighbors, then left Bame a phone message.
Bame had called back the agent in the morning and left a message on
his voice mail.
Faul appeared at Bame's work, unannounced, anyway.
The agent wanted to know if Bame - a pacifist who'd been arrested on
minor infractions at the 2002 anti-World Bank and International
Monetary Fund protest in Washington, D.C., and at the anti-Free Trade
Area of the Americas demonstrations in Miami last November - had
knowledge of any plans to disrupt the Republican National Convention
taking place a month later.
Faul warned the activist that it's a crime to have such knowledge and
not disclose it. He came equipped with a thin folder bearing Bame's
"I was shaking with terror," Bame told me in a phone interview. "To
visit my home, call, and visit me at work, all within an eight-hour
work day, shows a sense of urgency, like he was tracking down a
Faul decided not to push for an interview after Bame told him he
wouldn't speak without a lawyer present. But "his role was done when
he came to the door," Bame said. "My feeling is that they wanted to
make it known that they were watching.
Bame was just one of numerous activists approached by special agents
in different parts of the country prior to the RNC. But the campaign
didn't end with these interviews.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, on Aug. 15, the New York Times broke
the story - leaked by someone inside the FBI - that six-person teams
of federal agents had been assigned to trail 56 activists from around
the country, beginning immediately and continuing until the end of
the anti-RNC protest activities.
This reporter experienced the joys of being followed by what appeared
to be undercover cops while in New York for the anti-RNC activities
too. (They denied being officers.) I'd met up with a small group of
activists who'd called saying they were being followed for the third
time. The undercovers stalked the group everywhere we went, for
hours. They'd mention details of where some of the activists were
from and where they'd been. They harangued us - creating suspicion
about us to people on the street and trying to instigate a
confrontation (see "The Intimidators," 9/8/04).
In fact, the campaign against activists that preceded the RNC was
just one of the recent preemptive strikes in the weeks and months
leading up to major demonstrations in the United States.
Three university students from Kirksville, Mo., were among the
targets prior to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. They
reported being trailed 24 hours a day and interrogated by the FBI in
late July and "were then subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on
the very day they were planning to be in Boston for [the protest],"
Matthew Rothschild reported for The Progressive's McCarthyism Watch
Web site. Agents also questioned their parents.
Of course, the government practice of keeping tabs on dissenters is
nothing new. In June 2000, Bay Area anti-globalization activist David
Solnit was stopped by Canadian officers after arriving in Windsor.
They had a printout about him provided by the FBI, Solnit told Bay
Guardian reporter A.C. Thompson at the time. Solnit wound up spending
four days in the brink before being released without charges and
warned to leave the country (see "Big Brother Was Watching,"
Other outspoken advocates of nonviolent civil disobedience have had
similar experiences while trying to travel to Canada or returning to
the United States from abroad. Their experiences indicate that the
feds have been sharing intelligence on U.S. activists with other
countries for some time now.
Starhawk and a friend were stopped by immigration agents when they
flew into Ottawa, Canada, in 2001. She was allowed to enter the
country after officials questioned her and checked her bags, but her
friend was detained. Records turned up as part of a lawsuit later
filed by her friend showed that the Canadian officials had stopped
Starhawk based on information about her arrest during the 1999 World
Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle, she said. (She'd been
arrested for obstructing a pedestrian and spent five days in jail
before the charges were dropped. "I was never convicted of anything,"
she told me.)
Starhawk, a 40-year-old veteran of progressive movements, reported
being stopped every time she flies into Canada now.
Five customs agents greeted her in Los Angeles as she exited a plane
returning from the WTO protests held in Cancun little more than a
"There's definitely been a dramatic escalation in these kinds of
activities since [the anti-WTO protests in] Seattle, and particularly
since Sept. 11," Solnit told me. "They're criminalizing the concept
I've spoken with and received e-mails from numerous activists - in
northern California, the Los Angeles region, Boston, New York, and
New Jersey - over the past month detailing similar experiences. They
describe being approached by federal agents asking them to reveal
protest plans and names of other activists, and being trailed.
"The only things we know about the October Plan is what's been
leaked," Crew of the ACLU of Northern California said, adding that
there are no guarantees that U.S.-born activists aren't being
targeted as part of that surveillance scheme too.
During the week of the RNC protests in August, the New York-based
Daily News published an article titled "Anarchists Hot for Mayhem,"
cautioning New Yorkers about 50 activists in town to create havoc.
The New York Post published an equally scandalous report on some of
the very same protesters. "Finest Prep for Anarchy," screamed the
Solnit, Starhawk, and other prominent (and avowedly nonviolent)
political organizers were on the list, their photos displayed
prominently in the Daily News' pages.
Solnit and Starhawk said nobody from the News or the Post ever called
them for comment.
That kind of sensational behavior might be typical (if inexcusable)
for the scandal-loving New York tabs - but it didn't end there. ABC's
eminently respectable Nightline followed suit, in a segment titled
"Vote 2004: Protecting the Republican National Convention" featuring
officers of the NYPD and the Secret Service.
On Aug. 31, the same evening President Bush officially accepted the
Republican Party's nomination at Madison Square Garden, viewers
across the nation watched Ted Koppel warn Americans about more than
two dozen activists whom he referred to as "particularly troublesome,
even dangerous anarchists who infiltrate other groups and then try to
The segment included mug shots of the suspects, fed to the media by
local authorities. Solnit's photo from when he'd been arrested at the
FTAA protests in Miami was among them.
"That's as serious as it gets," CCR's Fogel said. "The same way they
use the word '9/11' in connection with Iraq, without ever saying
'Iraq caused 9/11,' in the hopes that people will believe that
there's a connection between 9/11 and Iraq - it's the same as the
association of the word 'terrorism' and protest activity. The
equation of the word 'anarchism' with violence is an extraordinary
equation. I don't know where that comes from except their desire to
paint particular people with a particular viewpoint as being violent.
Because there is no connection between those two things."
(Interestingly, Solnit doesn't even describe himself as an anarchist.)
The consequences are two-fold, he said: to "discourage people from
attending such demonstrations" and to "negate the impact the protest
may have" by casting it in a negative light and characterizing
organizers as thugs feeding into the terror threat.
The spoon-feeding of damaging material to the press is eerily
reminiscent of what happened to Stanford University professor H.
Bruce Franklin in the late 1960s (see "They're Watching," page 19).
Meanwhile, the feds continue to launch assaults against antiwar,
grassroots media activists who try to get the other side of the story
out. At the behest of the Secret Service - the agency charged with
coordinating the law-enforcement response for special security events
- the Justice Department subpoenaed New York City's Indymedia
Center's Internet service provider in August for records associated
with a posting that included the names of RNC delegates.
Authorities subpoenaed San Antonio-based Rackspace, another IMC
Web-hosting provider, demanding access to another of the group's
servers two weeks ago. Rackspace handed over the data and shut down a
second server used to stream various electronic radio programs,
without a word to the IMC.
Both servers were situated in London, where Rackspace operates an
affiliate company. The move affected approximately two dozen IMC
sites throughout the world.
Civil liberties watchdog groups obviously worry about the chilling
effect these kinds of surveillance and crackdowns have on our
faltering First and Fourth Amendments. But they also insist that
Ashcroft and company's approach isn't making us any safer.
When law enforcement fails to distinguish between violent criminal
activity and legitimate dissent - and when it favors collecting as
much information on as many people as possible rather than useful
intelligence resulting from bona fide criminal investigations - it's
"choosing quantity over quality," Crew said. "You develop good leads
by generating trust, not by disrespecting people's rights.... [And]
if you're looking for a needle in a haystack, adding more hay doesn't
The bills that have recently passed through the House and Senate in
response to the 9-11 Commission's findings, reorganizing intelligence
gathering and expanding Big Brother's reach even further into our
everyday lives, just promise more of the same.
"It's during times of fear when civil liberties are most at risk,"
[Research assistance provided by A.C. Thompson.]
We do not inherit this land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our
children. (Haida saying)
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