FBI Investigating Anti-War Protesters
The FBI is returning to tactics used during the days of J. Edgar Hoover. According to an FBI memo sent to local law enforcement agencies last month, the F.B.I. is investigating anti-war protest movements and protesters:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum.
The memorandum, which the bureau sent to local law enforcement agencies last month in advance of antiwar demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco, detailed how protesters have sometimes used "training camps" to rehearse for demonstrations, the Internet to raise money and gas masks to defend against tear gas. The memorandum analyzed lawful activities like recruiting demonstrators, as well as illegal activities like using fake documentation to get into a secured site.
Is this supposed to reassure us?
F.B.I. officials said in interviews that the intelligence-gathering effort was aimed at identifying anarchists and "extremist elements" plotting violence, not at monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters.
.... some civil rights advocates and legal scholars said the monitoring program could signal a return to the abuses of the 1960's and 1970's, when J. Edgar Hoover was the F.B.I. director and agents routinely spied on political protesters like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"The F.B.I. is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have a serious concern about whether we're going back to the days of Hoover."
During Hoover's reign, programs such as Cointelpro resulted in FBI agents investigation Hoover's enemies. Reforms were enacted to prevent such abuses from recurring in the future. Ashcroft, however, has eased them in the name of the terror war:
The abuses of the Hoover era, which included efforts by the F.B.I. to harass and discredit Hoover's political enemies under a program known as Cointelpro, led to tight restrictions on F.B.I. investigations of political activities. Those restrictions were relaxed significantly last year, when Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidelines giving agents authority to attend political rallies, mosques and any event "open to the public."
This memo may be the the first confirmation by the Administration that it will be spying on American protesters. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?
Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, for instance, have sued the government to learn how their names ended up on a "no fly" list used to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes. Civil rights advocates have accused federal and local authorities in Denver and Fresno, Calif., of spying on antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating planning meetings. And the New York Police Department this year questioned many of those arrested at demonstrations about their political affiliations, before halting the practice and expunging the data in the face of public criticism. The F.B.I. memorandum, however, appears to offer the first corroboration of a coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence regarding demonstrations.
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