Monday, July 18, 2005


The FBI monitors ACLU, Greenpeace, protestors against Bush, subpoenas Internet posts

This is a problem that is as old as the Bureau. They have an important law enforcement function. Properly handled, they have an important counter-terrorism function. But they can't seem to do either one right because they spend a lot too much time acting as an internal security agency to monitor and in cases fabricate, provoke, or crush dissent. The key points are contained in these excerpts from an article by Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times: "The F.B.I. has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace... The much smaller files that the F.B.I. has already turned over in recent weeks center on two other groups that were involved in political protests in the last few years, and those files point to previously undisclosed communications by bureau counterterrorism officials regarding activity at protests.. An agent in Denver requested that the F.B.I. open a preliminary investigation "to allow for identification and investigation of individuals planning criminal activity during Columbus Day, October 2002," the memorandum said. ... The documents are similar in tone to a controversial bulletin distributed among F.B.I. counterterrorism officials in October 2003 that analyzed the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators who were then planning protests in Washington and San Francisco.... The 2003 memo led to an internal Justice Department inquiry after an F.B.I. employee charged that it improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity.... And the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation and subpoenaed records regarding Internet messages posted by critics of the Bush administration that listed the names of delegates to the Republican convention." The article also points out that the ridiculous prosecution of Greenpeace under an obscure law intended to prevent prostitutes from plying their trade on naval ships was thrown out of court. Sailor mongering indeed. So, on net: * massive monitoring of groups with no history of violence but a long history of unearthing governmental abuses * use of counterterror powers (to get a sense of how extensive these are, think of Jose Padilla, now in his third year of detention without charges or representation) against protestors * a blurring of the line between criminal activity and protests to the extent that it spurred an FBI employee to object * inappropriate use of federal power for what is a local police function (consider that the Free Republic posted private information about a waitress from Chuy's because she dared call the cops about underage drinking) Many people will be disturbed because of the erosion of civil liberties, as they should be. An amazingly small percentage of them are righties who claimed to be frightened of government power when Clinton was president. But what may be even more disturbing is that these revelations show an FBI that is increasingly dysfunctional. Energy that should go into protecting the lives of Americans is diverted into sniffing bedsheets in Arkansas under the leadership of Ken Starr, into discovering the existence of prostitutes in New Orleans under John Ashcroft's guidance, and now into the last refuge of the incompetent, threat invention. Should America really come under attack (as opposed to suffering mass casualties from an isolated strike), such people cannot protect her.
Meanwhile, white supremacist William Krar of Noonday, Texas and his friends were allowed to make dozens of bombs and send them to their white-power militia buddies nationwide -- and not a peep do we hear about whether or not the FBI's monitoring them.

Now, under an Administration that could be trusted to do the right thing even a small portion of the time, this would be a good thing: It would mean that the FBI is not grandstanding for political effect, but quietly monitoring the white supremacists and trying not to blow their cover.

But the way things have worked in DC for the past four-going-on-five years, the reason we're not hearing about FBI monitoring of right-wing groups is actually because there is NO government surveillance of these groups, even though they are a clear and present danger to America.
Yeah, it's really a cultural thing.

The Bureau (and the Agency and all US law enforcement) has never really been able to accept the concept that they should include people other than white, conservative men. The result is they have a really bizarre view of the way the world works. They have few legitimate contacts inside other communities (though one is occasionally amazed to learn that, for example, Thurgood Marshall was an FBI informant) and so they often use people who are pretty flaky. Some of those people, whether under FBI direction or not, commit violent or otherwise reprehensible acts, undermining the legitimate function of the Bureau.

Worst of all, systematically suppressing legitimate dissent produces a slave nation. One sees this in Central American countries where generation after generation people have been beaten down, first by the Spanish and then by the ricos the US installs to make sure we get our daily cup of coffee.

I know a couple of guys who have worked at the Bureau and still swap Christmas cards with one. They're not bogeymen to me. But good individuals can be part of a system that is going very wrong.

I'm reading an excellent account of Guatemala, where chronic fear has erased from people's minds their history, as well as their sense of community and of self-worth. Fear has essentially made them incapable of self-government.

The US is turning into Guatemala. We laugh about the fact that only a quarter of the voters can name both their US senators and that only half of Americans vote. But my impression is that this ignorance is learned.

Mostly people are afraid of job repercussions, I think. And then there's the Carville-Matalin problem: having pleasant social relations with someone whose politics you hate. But some of it is fear of somehow falling afoul of the government. When one learns that the FBI is watching an organization like the ACLU, it calls into question whether people should think they have political freedoms.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

More blogs about politics.
Technorati Blog Finder